FORT STEWART Ga. - April is Sexual Assault Prevention Month. The observance aids in providing awareness and prevention of sexual abuse. The truth is that sexual assault is not prejudice to race, age, education, sex or class. It can happen to anyone. A victim, who requested to remain anonymous, shares her story of sexual assault.

She is a college graduate, an Army spouse, and a mom... the average Family Member in Fort Stewart's community. She did not scream in the middle of the night. A complete stranger did not assault her. Her story began when she was five years old. She knew her assailants, yet, in the eyes of a young girl, her assailants were her friends.

"We lived in the northwest. Both my parents worked, so my neighbor babysat me," the victim said. "Their son, who was 13 at the time, had a camera in the garage. He would take pictures of me changing into my bathing suit. When you're five, you don't know that's not OK. I was still thinking about cooties."

Little did she know that the pictures he was capturing would be the beginning of an unfortunate journey of sexual molestation.

"After a while, it progressed to "let me help you put on your bathing suit." He began to rub sun screen lotion on private areas," she said. "Thinking back, it seems funny to me that here's this person touching me everywhere, yet I only got grossed-out by the cooties of being kissed on the neck."

Following years of repeated incidences, she began to realize that the son's actions were inappropriate. However, she did not have the courage to speak-up for herself. She blamed herself for the molestation.

"I realized as I got older that what he was doing wasn't right, but I felt it was my fault because I always let him touch me," she said. "I didn't understand that it wasn't my fault. I was very ashamed and embarrassed. I would say no, but he would say that we were friends and that I always let him touch me before."

After enduring four years of sexual abuse, she and her Family moved to a different state, which subsequently ended the molestation. However, she did not share the sexual encounters with anyone. For her, it became a shameful secret, a burden that went unspoken for years.

Like many victims of sexual abuse, she did not report the molestation. She became a statistic.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police and two out of three assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. The National Women's Survey states that 41.7 percent of adolescent victims who have been sexually assaulted will be assaulted again, a hard fact that she had to face.

"We moved to Oklahoma. We were getting ready to go overseas," she said. "I was living with my grandma at the time because my parents were getting ready to go overseas, and they wanted me to finish the eighth grade before I went overseas as well."

She said her grandma had two friends, an older couple. They all often gathered at the couple's lake house. They kayaked, swam, and fished at the lake near the home.

"They seemed to be the most beautiful couple," she said. "They had three daughters that were all grown up. Their daughters were in college, some already graduated, and some had kids of their own. They were living the high life."

She trusted the couple; they were dear friends of her grandmother. She felt there was no reason not to trust Family friends. After all, the couple took her on boat rides and invited her on many outings . . . nothing happened.

It was not until one night she woke up with the gentleman's hand on her chest. She states that the gentleman said he was catching her from falling off the living room sofa.

"I was thinking at the time that I wasn't falling," she said. "He kept saying that he was keeping me from falling, just covering me up with the blanket. I was kind of skeptical, but I didn't know what to think at 13. We visited a few more times and nothing happened, so I was certain it was innocent."

From there, incidences slowly escalated. He attempted to kiss her one day while swimming in the lake, later apologizing. He woke her up another night touching her in inappropriate places, saying it was her fault because she led him on. His advances progressed to the point that he even fondled her on the living room couch while her grandmother and his wife watched a movie nearby.

"He said I couldn't say anything," she said. "He said if I told grandma, he would say I was lying. Your grandma and I have been friends forever. She is not going to believe you."

Following the movie, she went to her bedroom. She buried her face in tissue, crying because she felt helpless. She heard the garage open, thinking that the couple left, thinking that HE left. Feeling relieved, she built up the courage to tell her grandmother what happened. She later realized that her grandmother and the assailant's wife were on their way to the store, leaving her alone with the abuser.

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I ran back to the bedroom and shut the door. There was no lock on the door. So, he came in and restrained me. This was when he raped me."

No longer able to keep this unfortunate secret bottled inside, the victim told her grandmother about the assault.

"My message [to people who have been sexually assaulted] is that you have a choice," she said. "Every day you get up, every nightmare you have, every memory you make, you have a choice. You can choose to let the assault drag you down, you can choose different sources of help or you can choose to talk about it, but live with the fact that that is the choice you made."

The victim remains active in the Fort Stewart community, sharing her story to people who have experienced similar incidences. Like the victim, many people walk around with an untold story of sexual assault.

Who knows, maybe the next time you shop at the commissary, help a student in a class or sit in the waiting room at the hospital the strangers you see may be a victim. Maybe the Soldier next to you in formation or in line to get lunch has a story. Sexual assault does not discriminate.

For more information regarding sexual assault, contact the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program at 912-767-3032 (Stewart) or 912-315-5343 (Hunter) or visit www.stewart.army.mil/DMWR/acs/SAPR.asp.

Page last updated Thu April 21st, 2011 at 08:40