Sexual assault: A victim's story
March 13, 2009
- Many support resources are available for victims
- Sexual assaults are most commonly committed by someone known to the victim
- Sexual assault is a crime, should be treated as such
When she deployed to Iraq, Pfc. Smith had no idea what was in store for her. She had just recently joined the National Guard and this was her first deployment. During mobilization training, she befriended a few of her fellow junior enlisted Soldiers and their friendship was greatly helped with the difficult transition between college and combat with which Smith was dealing.
After a few weeks on ground, Smith's roommate went on leave and she decided to have a few of her friends over. They all sat around, watched movies and talked about what they'd do when they got home. The gathering died down and everyone went back to their CHUs to get some sleep, except for Spc. Anderson. Anderson and Smith had grown closer than most of the troops in their unit and they spent a great deal of time together.
They were finishing watching a movie when Anderson put his hand on Smith's thigh. She didn't feel uncomfortable with this kind of touching between him, so she didn't correct it. Things began to progress and soon they were both stripped down to their underclothes. Smith started feeling uncomfortable with the progression of their relationship and midway through their foreplay, she asked him to stop.
For a little while, they just lay side-by-side and Anderson decided he'd try again. Once again, Smith told him she didn't think it was a good idea for them to have sex. However, Anderson continued to touch her, ignoring her quiet protest. Smith said "no" over and over, but Anderson didn't think she was serious. The two ended up having sex, after which Anderson gave her a kiss and left.
Smith has no idea that what just happened to her is rape and that she's now a victim of sexual assault. She just knows that she feels incredibly violated and alone.
While Smith's story is fictional, these events happen in real life during a deployment. Sexual assault is a crime and, like any other crime, the victim did nothing to deserve it, said Lt. Col. Lynn Jackson, Equal Opportunity program director for Multi-National Corps - Iraq. The most important thing following an assault, Jackson said, is that victims get the help they need and the military tracks down the person who committed this crime. "No one deserves that kind of violence in their lives, especially not from men and women they trust, people they've went to war with," Jackson explained.
If Smith decided to report this crime, she could turn to any of the unit victim advocates or deployed sexual assault response coordinators listed on her company's equal opportunity board. These advocates are available 24-hours-a-day to help victims of sexual assault. These personnel can assist victims in getting the medical care and support they need during a very sensitive time and can help them through the reporting process.
From sitting in sexual assault awareness classes, Smith would be familiar with the importance of reporting sexual assault, but the fear of thinking she'd get in trouble or that all the people in her unit would find out about what happened might keep her from reporting the crime.
Although people wouldn't think twice about reporting a theft or physical assault, victims of sexual assault are often embarrassed because of the involvement of sex in the crime, Jackson explained. However, reporting sexual assaults are important not only so victims can get the help they need, but to keep fellow servicemembers from having the same traumatic event happen to them, Jackson said.
There are two types of reporting available to victims of sexual assault; restricted and unrestricted. Restricted is when the crime is reported to a medical provider, chaplain, DSARC or UVA. Victims can still get the help they need, but the crime is never investigated or forwarded up to the chain of command.
Unrestricted is when the crime is reported to anyone other than the aforementioned personnel. Then, the assault must be investigated and the chain of command is notified. Servicemembers can start out restricted and later change to unrestricted. There is no difference in the support or medical care provided victims based off reporting type.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, care for assault victims ranges from treating physical problems, such as injuries, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, that could result from the assault to helping victims cope with the damaging emotional side-effects of the event. Emotional effects can include flashbacks, depression, suicidal thoughts or gestures, post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder and rape trauma syndrome. Common feelings reported to the Rape Treatment Center at University of California-Los Angeles' medical center include numb, dazed, withdrawn, distant, fear of personal safety, shame, humiliation and guilt.
Servicemembers don't have to allow all these feelings to compound, Jackson said. "Servicemembers should get care so they can try to be as whole as possible again. We know they're afraid, but the program is designed for them [victims] specifically to get help."
This help includes counseling through mental health, chaplains and Military One Source, said Capt. Tina Ortiz, psychiatric nurse, 10th Combat Support Hospital. "Individual counseling sessions offer a safe environment for a victim to explore the emotions often felt after a sexual assault," Ortiz said. There are also medications available to ease anxiety and depression and help quell sleep disturbances, she added.
"Victims of sexual assault should seek treatment early on to prevent long lasting effects from the traumatic event," Ortiz said.
Smith and all servicemembers have the obligation to themselves and their fellow troops to put out the message that sexual assault is a crime and not acceptable in the military. Programs are in place to help and protect victims of sexual crimes and to work towards punishing their attackers. Servicemembers in trouble on Victory Base Complex can call the sexual assault response hotline at 0790-110-2360 or 0790-110-4707, 24-hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week.