Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From Victim to Survivor of Sexual Assault

Me and Jessie are longtime friends. We grew up three houses apart in a neighborhood where kids played outside from sunrise to sunset. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and Jessie has been posting facts and tips on her Facebook page every day. She is a survivor.

1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That ratio increases to 1 in 4 serving our country.

Jessie is the 1 in 4 and I asked her to share her story. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

I was born and raised in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania.  I was raised by my loving parents who will celebrate their 38th anniversary this June and I have one older sister.  Growing up my family was the picture of middle class.  We always made ends meet but it wasn’t easy.  When the high school years passed for my sister and college started, the financial burden was clear to me.  I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send both of us to college.  I knew if I wanted higher education, I would have to find a way to pay for it.  That’s when I started talking to recruiters and decided to join the Army.

I joined the Army Reserve on July 12, 1999, the summer before my senior year of high school.  I initially joined to help pay for college, but the second I met the men and women in my reserve unit I realized there was way more to the military than college.  The comradery, the pride of serving our country, and the amazing ability of helping others soon became the reason I stayed in the Army.  I loved helping others, especially the youth in my hometown.  I loved talking to them about the opportunities outside of Elk County.  How else can a middle class girl from a small town in Pennsylvania travel up and down the east coast before heading to Japan for a 3 week training mission?  How else could she pay for college without working so much that her grades suffer?  I was living proof that there was another option to youth in my community.

That is when I decided to get into recruiting.  I started working with a local recruiter in Clarion while attending college there.  I loved helping the community and showing the young men and women an alternative.  I worked under this recruiter for four years until the opportunity came available for me to work full time as a recruiter.  The man I had been working with just got a promotion and wanted me to work for him in DuBois.  I graciously accepted and attended recruiting school during the summer of 2004, one month after I got married.

This was my dream job.  I was serving my country and making a difference right here in my hometown area.

It was also a tough job.  Recruiting required long hours and countless strategies in order to be successful.  I was not afraid of hard work.  I put in the hours as needed, worked around the clock to succeed and my efforts were not without recognition.  I was awarded Top Reserve Recruiter for the Pittsburgh Recruiting Battalion during fiscal year 2005.

Then in May of 2005, my life changed.  I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  This was a glorious time for my husband and I!

The same day I found out I was pregnant, I told my Station Commander (my friend) the exciting news.  His attitude towards me immediately changed. We were scheduled to take a physical fitness test that day.  He told me that since I didn’t have a doctor slip stating I was pregnant, I was required to take the test.  After successful completion of the test; which required push-ups, sit- ups, and a 2 mile run, I began to spot.  I saw the doctor and it was confirmed my baby was ok. That baby is now and amazing 9 year old girl!
As far as my boss’s attitude towards me, this was just the beginning.

The next few weeks were met with inappropriate comments about me and other females that entered our office, but it wasn’t until mid-June that things really got out of control.  I was working in the office while the other 4 recruiters were out on appointments or school visits.  I walked into the back supply room to make copies of a pamphlet I was working on when the Station Commander came into the office.  He followed me into the copy room and cornered me.  He told me that my breasts were getting larger and that he needed to see them. We were always very professional in our relationship and had never had any type of sexual tension between us.  I respected his rank and his knowledge in the service.  He was my mentor and now he was demanding to change the dynamic of our friendship.  I refused but he insisted.  He forced my shirt off and he began touching me.

I froze until he finished and left the office again.  I made sure he was gone before I left. 

In case you are wondering why Jessie froze... here is something she shared...
The phrase fight or flight is not exactly accurate when it comes to sexual assault. It's common for the victim to have a freeze reaction during the attack. This often happens when the victim knows the attacker. The brain cannot compute the attack. It cannot make the distinction between friend and enemy that quickly which causes a freeze response.

The next day was as if things were returning to normal.  The tension in the office was gone.  This lasted for a few weeks, until one day I was working alone in the office again and the Station Commander came in.  He told me he needed me to send a fax for him.  He handed me papers and went into his office.  I started down the hall to the supply room and he followed me.  He told me that he was going to touch me again and I needed to obey his orders.

This time I immediately froze until it was over.  The next day a friend of mine noticed a change in my attitude and asked if I was ok.  I told him I was, but that I would let him know if I ever wasn’t ok.  The same type of assaults occurred 3 more times over the next few weeks. 
I felt like I had control over it.
Then one day, I didn’t.
The assault started just as the others had, but this time things were different.  This time I wouldn’t be ok.  It was now August and the assaults had been occurring on and off over the last two months.

He was touching me and I cried for him to stop.  I said “NO”.  I thought that was the magic word that made men stop, but not this time.

He didn’t stop.
He raped me.

I was crying the whole time, “no, no, no, no, no….stop, stop, stop…no, no, no!” Tears streaked my face.

After what felt like an eternity, he stopped.  He left the office and I was still frozen.  I remember thinking, when does my savior come?  Shouldn’t someone come find me and make this all better?  No one came.  It was just me.  I picked myself up, got dressed and ran out of the office.

I went home and told my husband I wanted out of the Army, but I wouldn’t tell him the true reason why.  The following day I told my friend that I was no longer ok and asked him to never leave me alone in the office again.

I continued to do my job to the best of my ability until the Army would approve my decision to get out and raise my child.  I had to see that man every day of my life for the next 4 months.  The man that raped me still had control of my life for those 4 months. 
Thanks to my one friend and the one man I could trust, I felt safe.  I kept the secret as to the real reason I got out of the Army for 6 years. 
For 6 full years I did not tell a soul what had happened to me that day in August 2005. 

Come back tomorrow to find out what happened after six years of silence.

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