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A sexual assault survivor’s view: I need to recover, but I’m in a bad spot

Editor’s note: This is part three of an eight-part series about sexual assault awareness.

After I told my supervisor of the sexual assault, a strange tension began between us. A few weeks later, my son became ill. All of a sudden, I had three major stresses … lack of good sleep and nightmares, an unfamiliar stressed relationship with my supervisor, and a sick child whom I could not instantly make better.

I was overwhelmed. I took emergency leave to support my son and family. Additionally, I sought ways to relieve my stress. I supported my son, but I was limited and reactionary to his needs, the doctor’s news and the treatment plan.

Additionally, my emergency leave added to the tensions in my relationship with my supervisor so out of desperation, I addressed the sexual assault I had avoided for almost 20 years. I needed, and my family needed me to be healthy and free of nightmares now more than ever. Addressing the sexual assault was the best decision I ever made for my health, my family and my career, but I’m sad it took desperation for me to examine the horrific sexual assault event instead of avoiding it.

What you can do: 1.) Don’t label sexual assault survivors as “victims”– we are survivors. 2.) If you are a sexual assault survivor, please don’t wait until your life is so stressed the only thing you can control is learning new coping methods to recover from your sexual assault. 3.) Your response to any sexual assault survivor should be: “I’m sorry,” “It’s not your fault,” and “What can I do to help?” [Mr. Jeff Bucholt, Director of We End Violence, 2013]. I wish my supervisor had been given this valuable advice before I told him of my sexual assault.

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 U.S. 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.

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A Sexual Assault Survivor’s View: What Did I Survive?

Editor’s note: this is part two in an eight-part series about sexual assault awareness.

I am a survivor of a traumatic sexual assault.

I was raped 20 years ago, and I still relive the rape when reminders trigger my memories. It took me 19 years to disclose the details of my assault outside my immediate family.

An Airman I knew in technical training school snuck into my dorm room after I had gone to sleep and raped me.

My rape was quiet. I said “no, stop” many times, but my cries were ignored by the rapist and I froze. I could feel my tears running down the sides of my eyes into my ears, and I zoned out while he did whatever he wanted to my body.

I was able to suppress this traumatic event for many years (with a little mental health maintenance here and there after an occasional trigger affected me). However, in 2012 I hit a wall of new triggers as they became a part of my everyday life.

After hitting this wall, my nightmares became ceaseless and after two weeks without sleep, I was so completely exhausted and emotionally drained that I had a crying spell after leaving sick call (my second trip to sick call to address my inability to sleep).

I declined much needed quarters so I could participate in an orientation briefing for a new wing leader. As soon as I realized I couldn’t make it to the orientation in time to participate, I started crying because I felt I was letting my team down. I called my supervisor to report my inability to attend the orientation because my doctor’s appointment took longer than I expected, so I would be late and I hadn’t slept for two weeks. I rambled on and told him I was having nightmares due to a past sexual assault.

I survived being raped, I survived using avoidance as a coping method for many years, and I survived telling my supervisor I was sexually assaulted when this coping method failed me.

What you can do: 1) Don’t label sexual assault survivors as “victims”–we are survivors. 2) Your response to every sexual assault survivor should be: “I’m sorry,” “It’s not your fault,” and “What can I do to help?” This response to a survivor’s report of a sexual assault was taught to our 45th Space Wing members by Mr. Jeff Bucholt, Director of We End Violence, and I agree!

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.

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A sexual assault survivors view: trigger for survivors

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.

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Behavioral Issues

The SAPR Team is traveling around to bases getting input on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. One of the issues brought up during the focus groups is social interaction. In other words “What is proper social behavior?” I find it interesting that we have people that think this is one way of strengthening the SAPR program. I couldn’t agree more that many people in today’s digital age seemed to have lost or never developed many social skills needed for one on one or even group interaction. But do you think it’s an issue that affects sexual assault?

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Restricted Report Option: Did you know?

If you weren’t paying attention to the news in May you probably didn’t know that the DoD released its annual report on sexual assault in the military. In the Air Force, 1,047 sexual assault reports were documented in FY13. Of the 1,047 reports, 488 were restricted reports however, 76 of those converted from restricted to unrestricted in FY13.

The restricted report option is for victims of sexual assault who wish to confidentially disclose the crime to specifically identified individuals and receive medical treatment and services without triggering the official investigative process. Service members who are sexually assaulted and desire restricted reporting under this policy must report the assault to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Sexual Assault Victim Advocate (SAPR VA), Volunteer Victim Advocate (VA) or healthcare personnel. However, members who have made a restricted report have the option to go unrestricted if they choose to do so at a later date. What do you think about this policy?

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Your “Frozen” Thoughts

A reporter wrote an opinion piece Why these Marines love ‘Frozen’ and why it matters about the viral video of Marines going nuts over “Frozen.” [Click here to view the original video] In his article he makes the statement, “A definition that lumps these things together with rape does little to decrease sexual assaults anywhere—in military, on college campuses, or in bars and homes across the nation. And, it makes soldiers more likely to disregard the entire sexual assault prevention program because the instructions they are getting make no sense at all.” Do you think that’s a fair criticism or do you think he’s off base?

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Rape Epidemic

There have been some interesting articles in the press recently related to sexual assault. One of which is an op-ed which discusses the possibility that we have a rape epidemic in America. It got me wondering if our Airmen feel the same way about the Air Force. Is there a rape epidemic in the Air Force? And if so why do you feel that way?

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Let us know

SARC-HARRASSMENT-LOGOIt’s been a year since the Headquarters Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Office was revamped. Today, we have a directorate-level office led by a general officer who reports directly to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Our office manning increased to a 32-person team of experts which includes mental health, office of special investigations, lawyers, researchers, analysts, SARCs, Victim Advocates and enlisted advisors. There have been a host of initiatives the HQ SAPR office has implemented over the past year and continues to find ways to free our service from the crime of sexual assault.
We thank all those who read and respond to our blog. Many of our senior leaders read the blog daily and your opinions and thoughts provide valuable insights into important issues our team needs to consider and address. Keep those thoughts flowing our way.

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Touchy Subject

There is no doubt sexual assault is an extremely complex issue — there are many elements to it. I’ve seen this issue cause the most mild-manner people to get in a fuming rage from both sides. I understand there is a human element to sexual assault, but why else do you think this issue is such a volatile topic?

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Dirty Talk!!!

It’s 10 minutes till we get off work and everyone is finished with their work for the day.  We’re sitting around telling jokes and laughing.  Everyone in the room is laughing and having a good time, just anxious for the weekend. A couple of the jokes are inappropriate in nature and could have been offensive to some, but everyone seems to be enjoying blowing off a little steam.  What are your thoughts?  Is this appropriate?  Should anyone say something to the joke-teller, or just let it slide … after all, it is almost the weekend.

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