I was assaulted while at Advanced Individual Training at Fort Meade. It was the first night my friends and I were allowed to get a pass off base. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving 2004. The plan was to reserve a suite at the hotel next to the mall. My friends had already left but I had guard duty that day. It was evening by the time I got there. They were watching movies and eating junk food. We hung out but I got tired quickly after pulling duty all day. They said I could take a room and I went to sleep.
I thought I was having a nightmare. The kind that you fight to wake up from, but you can't. But it wasn't a nightmare. I was being raped. I tried to scream but I could only manage whispers. I was groggy and confused. My body felt heavy to the bed. I was finally able to get him off of me and grab my clothes and jacket. Luckily, this bedroom had a direct door to the hallway. It was too early to get a cab back to base so I wandered around outside in the cold for hours. There was no 24 hour restaurant or any where I could go. It was bitterly cold. Winters are still hard for me. I didn't report right away but being in the same unit and seeing him every day... it became too much. I thought I was doing the right thing but I wish I had never reported. Instead of support, I faced victimization and blame. I spent hours over days in CID (where military investigations happen). No victim advocate, no lawyer. Just constant badgering and interrogation. I was told that if I wanted to pursue charges, I would have to go through a lie detector test and if I was found to be lying which they thought I was, I would face charges. They said if I dropped it, I would face no retaliation, but it was a lie. I got written up for fraternization as if I wanted it to happen and just regretted it later.
I thought when I finally got my assignment to my first duty station that I would be able to move on. Possibly even get treatment. However, Korea wasn't much better. I was first stationed in Daegu. You had to keep your doors locked all the time because people were getting so intoxicated, they were going into other people's rooms. I didn't feel safe. Plus long shifts. I lost a lot of weight. I was moved up to headquarters and tried getting treatment for my trauma but was labeled as having a personality disorder and being bipolar. They put me on multiple medications-anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, mood stabilizer, and a sleep medication. Quite the cocktail, but I was willing to try anything to get through the trauma and try to move on….
Then he got stationed in Korea. Not at the same base but a lot of service members came to Yongsan on the weekend because it was the main base located just outside of Seoul. I was running into him on base and off of base. My Sergeant Major was the only person who was supportive and even though I was misdiagnosed as being bipolar, he though some additional counseling might help. However, my Non-Commissioned Officer didn't like my additional appointments. I was seeing a psychiatrist frequently because it was hard to manage so many meds without side effects, a therapist, and attending a group. She would put my business out in formation and call me names. She would say I was a poor ass soldier, a flake, and that I should just get over it.
I was trying. I really was but it is hard when you don't have the support, when you are still being victimized and blamed, even in therapy! It came to the point where I hated the uniform. Where was the integrity, the loyalty, the respect? My SGM helped me get out on an honorable discharge. During my exit counseling, my commander called me an embarrassment to all women who served before me. He said that I would never amount to anything and that I couldn't call myself a veteran. It took 6 years for me to stop believing him.
I was made to think the rape was all in my head and if it had happened, it was really just my fault. It wasn't until I saw The Invisible War that I realized it wasn't my fault and that I was not the only one. I was relieved, sad, and outraged all at once. I found and joined some Military Sexual Trauma groups on Facebook and found a few non-profits that helped MST survivors including Service Women's Action Network. In 2014, they had a summit in Washington, DC for survivors. I applied and was given a full scholarship to go out there. It was the first time I met other survivors. Once again, I felt heartbroken and angry. How could there be so many of us, yet no one was doing anything? No one was really talking about it?
I've always be interested in art and theater. I had seen the Vagina Monologues a few times. I thought what if I could collect stories and poems from survivors and put them together into a theater project? I reached out on Facebook and they came in. I opened it up not just to survivors but also to loved ones because MST does not just affect the victims but those around them. One of my favorite pieces in the project is from a veteran who knew an MST survivor and regrets not standing up for her. It stresses the importance of bystander intervention. I also did not place limits on what people could talk about. I gave a few examples like they could talk about the rape itself, why they wanted to join the military, reporting process (if they reported) retaliation, life after the military, seeking help, and/or compensation from the VA but it was really up to them. I did not change their stories other than cut parts out for time purposes or edit for flow or grammar. The survivors had the final say and decided if I used their name, or someone else's. The point was to give them a voice even if they weren't ready to put their face or name to it. Speaking Out: Why I Stand is not based off of true stories, it IS true stories.
Reading their stories and reflecting on my own trauma inspired me to write a poem called The Residue of Trauma which is included in the performance.