Editor’s note: This is part one of an eight-part series about sexual assault awareness.
For the first time in seven years, I attended Sexual Assault Awareness Training. It was a major milestone for me.
Stepping back in time (I was sexually assaulted in 1993), in 2004 the Air Force released a training video which was mandatory viewing and training for all Airmen–I watched frozen, horrified, not able to move … even breathing was difficult.
This was the first time my coping method of avoidance failed me. That night I had my first nightmare in which I relived my past sexual assault.
I stopped sleeping and had nightmares night after night. I sought help from my doctor who gave me sleeping medicine. After I was able to sleep, the nightmares gradually went away but year after year, this was the pattern–Sexual Assault Awareness Training triggered nightmares, and I repeatedly relived the first few minutes of the sexual assault.
Thankfully after seeing my doctor and receiving the appropriate medication, I was able to sleep and the nightmares would go away. This pattern was eventually countered by avoiding Sexual Assault Awareness Training. For years, my doctor, life skills, mental health therapists excused me from SA training.
In August 2012, my coping method of avoidance failed me for the last time. I read an article in the Shark Pride newspaper, “My job is prosecuting sexual assault”, a commentary by Col. Don Christensen.
The article mentioned a website which listed all the significant sexual assault convictions. I was shocked by the number of cases which resulted in court-martial convictions (115 sexual assault convictions, 2010 – November 2013.)
I cried as I read every single case and am appalled this is happening in my Air Force. It happened to me — I thought I was an isolated case at the time, but now I realize sexual assault can happen to anybody.
Additionally, I can’t even begin to guess how many assaults are never reported–in fact when I read this article, I hadn’t reported my sexual assault yet. Finally, I can’t even imagine how many sexual assault cases were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
What you can do: 1.) Don’t label sexual assault survivors as “victims”–we are survivors. 2.) Be aware Sexual Assault Awareness Training may be a trigger to remind sexual assault survivors of the traumatic event. 3.) Coping methods used in the past by sexual assault survivors may not continue to work–especially if their coping method was avoidance.
About the Author: This is an event in my life I want to share with you so you can gain insight from my experience as part of the “Story Teller’s Campaign.” As part of the “Every Airman has a Story Campaign, I am a confident young lady–I like to ensure I leave every program I touch better than I found it. I am and have been many things: a mother, sister, wife, daughter, snowboarder, adventure racer, motorcycle rider, leader, program manager, engineer, physicist, Air Liaison Officer, United Nations Military Observer and US delegate to NATO. My philosophy is “bloom where planted and never ignore something you can fix or influence fixing.” I teach and empower my team members to be better than me. Finally, I can make a difference and so can you.