I loved SERE school. SERE stands for Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape. It's training for those that could be in the position to be prisoners of war. The Navy's training wasn't available for females so I was privileged to go to Fairchild Air Force Base for my training. They call their training "wilderness training" and it's three weeks long. The training was some of the best I attended while I was in the military. I won't be explaining all the training because that's not the point of this post. I enjoy sharing my story about this training. I felt strong and willful when I was there. At the same time, though, it broke me in a way not much else did.
The story I share with anyone who wants to listen is that I was chosen for a rape scenario. Pulled from my space, a man in a position of power unzipped my flight suit as he stood behind me and told me what he was going to do to me. At first I struggled and those I had been "captured" with spoke up and tried to stop what was going to occur. When they were told they would be next if they didn't stop, the whole room went quiet. And as it went quiet, I felt alone and powerless. Our flight suits are velcroed at the wrists. As my flight suit was pulled down, this allowed my captor to pin my arms behind my back. I struggled and I screamed and I kicked as he jarred my arms behind me and bent me over. As much as my head reeled and I tried to remind myself that this was an exercise...training...and that he could not really do this to me, logic and reason surrendered to panic and fear. I broke inside as I felt the humiliation of what was happening to me. Everyone quiet and watching or reeling in their own way in their small, dark places. Me, in the bright lights feeling abandoned, alone, and drifting to a dark place to survive. And then, another captor came in and stopped the situation. He pushed me forward and called me a whore and told me to put my flight suit back on. I was thrown back into my little, dark place like a bag of trash. Inside the darkness of my cell, I let the pain go as the tears streamed down my face.
When we were taken out into the "work yard", I came around a building and another guard grabbed me. He was going to rape me, too. The moment he told me this I lost it. I started sobbing. He asked me if I needed a training time out. I did. In this moment, I had to tell this total stranger that I couldn't do it again because in my real life, I had been raped and all this did was make me think about that all over again. He explained that I should have told them this and I would have gotten an arm band so I didn't have to endure the scenario. As I looked around and saw another woman from my group with the arm band, my heart ached for her. I was given an armband with the letter "R" on it. I'm sure it stood for "restrictions", but for me it stood for "rape". It was emblazoned on me.
During the debrief, I told my group my story. I told them that when the whole room went silent, when no one stood up for me, when I was alone and being assaulted, their silence hurt more than the actions about to take place. I asked them to remember what I was sharing because if they were ever in a real situation where this was happening to someone, that they would not let them be victimized twice. Once by the person or people conducting the assault and again by those who turned a blind eye to the situation. Many apologized to me for the crime they didn't commit against me as well as the one they did. If you've never been a victim of sexual assault, you may not understand what it does to you.
The story of my rape is simple. And this is another story I tell part way. I was at a party. I was underage. I was with people whom I felt safe around. They were my fellow aircrewmen. I played a drinking game with Jack Daniels and coke. I drank almost the entire fifth on my own. Later in the night, I puked for 3 1/2 hours until I lay on the bathroom floor passed out, throat burning and wishing I could die. One of my fellow aircrewmen was there with me. His name was Phillip. I don't remember his last name and that is a good thing. He got me to get into the bed after a while so I wasn't keeping the bathroom blocked. I did. I passed out again. It was then that he raped me. I remember snippets from this point. I remember him being on top of me. I remember finding my panties down by my ankles and pulling them up. I remember another male aircrewman, Brian, coming in later and asking if he could get in bed next to me and hold me. I let him. He had been a good friend to me and I had a crush on him. Being in the safety of his arms the rest of the night/morning was a rescue for me.
When I went back to the barracks that next day, I slept again. At some point, my boyfriend (and later husband) came to visit me. I went downstairs and met him out at the smoking area. I told him how I had gotten sick and everything. For whatever reason, maybe I wouldn't look at him or whatever, he asked me if I had sex with someone else that night. It was in that moment that the flashes of what had happened came back to me and it was just as they play it in the movies...in snippets...broken up and jumbled...and I kept my secret. A few weeks later, we'd gone to a hotel room together. I don't remember why I told him what happened or what triggered me to want to tell the story, but I did. And when I did, he was so pissed that he punched the headboard next to my head. I wept. He wanted to know the name of the person and to take care of things his way. I never disclosed the information. On my last day of school, I was having my departure physical in medical. Phillip walked in. He said hello to me like nothing had changed. My heart raced, my head spun and all I wanted to do was to run away.
There is shame that comes along with being raped. There is guilt, too. I had seen "The Accused" with Jodie Foster. I was a guys girl. I hung with the guys, I played with the guys and I had had a lot of willful sex. I felt in a way as if I deserved what I had gotten. The truth, though, is that I didn't deserve what happened to me. No one does. Giving my body to someone of my choosing is one thing, but taking from me something I have not given is never ok...no matter what the circumstances. I was not the first of my friends to be raped, but I was the last that I know of and I hope it stays that way. I once told my ex that sometimes it would feel better to just have died than to have had to live through circumstances such as rape, molestation or any other violation. What it does to your body is one thing, but what it does to your head is so much worse.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet other women who were struggling with their own such experiences of violation. I have shared my story with them. Our pain connected us. And telling the story took power away from being a victim. I tell this story now so that others know they are not alone. They have a voice. They have life. They are loved and precious and free. The first step is learning that you are not to blame for what happened to you at the hands of someone else.