By Lisa RhodesApril 8, 2015
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (April 8, 2015) -- When she was a child, Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh was sexually abused by a family member during a walk in the woods.
Singh, the 29th adjutant general of Maryland, spoke candidly about being sexually abused as a child and as a teen to an audience of 120 service members and DoD civilians on April 1 at McGill Training Center.
"I was an innocent kid," she said. "Did I ask for that? No."
The general's speech kicked off Fort Meade's observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The event was sponsored by the Fort Meade garrison.
The DoD's theme for this year is "Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part."
Bianca Rodgers, a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention victim advocate at Kimbrough
Ambulatory Care Center, invited Singh to be the guest speaker.
As adjutant general, Singh is responsible for the daily operations of the Maryland Military Department, which includes the Maryland Army National Guard, Maryland Air National Guard, Maryland Emergency Management Agency and Maryland Defense Force.
Singh is also the recipient of the Bronze Star Medal.
At the start of last week's event, Col. Laura R. Trinkle, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Activity and Kimbrough, welcomed the audience.
"This is an extremely important topic," Trinkle said. "The prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault requires everybody's involvement. ... We all have to be standing strong."
Singh's message for her presentation was "Are You With Me?"
"I'm going to talk about my story ... about why we have to get at this, why we have to get at what I think is very systemic in our society," she said.
Singh said although Congress is focused on sexual assault and harassment in the military, the problem has existed for decades and is now being revealed on college campuses and in religious communities across the country.
The general said she did not talk about her own experiences for 30 to 40 years because she could not understand why these incidents happened to her. But she finally decided to say "no more."
Singh said that when she was a child, her abuser said: "You trust me, don't you?"
"Well, of course I trusted them," Singh said. "I didn't realize what was going on. I knew I wasn't supposed to say anything. I was told not to say anything."
Years later, at age 16, Singh was sexually abused by a family member after a wedding anniversary party. The general said she had been drinking alcohol, although she was not permitted to drink.
Singh said when she returned home from the party and went to bed to sleep, she woke up later to find the family member on top of her. When she realized what was happening, she said, she tried to stop it.
"I trusted them and they took advantage of me," Singh said.
Then, talking directly to the audience, she said:
"You guys are the only ones who have actually heard this much detail, except my family."
Singh said her abuser was in the military and several days after the incident, left to return to duty.
"I didn't understand that I could have made some calls and got him into trouble," she said. "But I did know that it wasn't right."
Singh later told her mother and the two argued. Her father told her to leave home.
Singh said the abuse "impacted me severely" for years and that she had a tough time in relationships and "hated" men.
However, she said she has been "blessed" to be married for 23 years. Her husband, she said, "is just starting to understand everything that happened to me when I was young."
Singh said she did not tell her husband about her experiences and that she is just starting to talk about it.
"[I'm] just now really beginning to have the conversation because I know it really isn't my fault," she said.
Singh said she also was sexually harassed while working for a defense support contractor. A client tried to kiss her and made sexual advances while they were on a business trip.
"You're my client, you can't do that," Singh told the client.
The client later complained to Singh's boss and Singh threatened to file a lawsuit if she was fired. The client was reassigned to another female employee.
Later, Singh said she was sexually harassed by a Soldier when she was a captain and the company commander of a maintenance company.
Over the course of a year, the Soldier made sexually suggestive comments and tried to kiss her. He even sent her flowers.
On one occasion, Singh threatened him with an Article 15, a nonjudicial punishment, because he was drinking. He later dared to call her at her job and made another sexually suggestive comment.
Singh said that was the last straw.
"When I said enough is enough, I put him out," she said.
Singh enforced four Article 15s against the Soldier, ending his military career.
During a deployment to Afghanistan, Singh said she had time to think about the abuse she endured and its impact on her life.
"I made a decision at that point and time that I was not going to wait till I took off this uniform to have this conversation. If I made general officer when I came back ... I said from this day forward I would be transparent about the things that have happened to me and about my past because I think there are people out there that will maybe stand with me," Singh said.
By speaking out against sexual assault and sexual harassment, Singh said she made the decision that "enough is enough. ... So, with that I say, "Are you with me?"
After the speech, Trinkle said Singh's story speaks to survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
"You can survive. You can be accomplished," Trinkle said. "This doesn't have to define your life."
In his remarks, Garrison Commander Col. Brian P. Foley praised Singh for her candor.
"To hear your story in such a personal way, there's not one of us here who is not going to leave here changed," he said.
Foley and Trinkle then presented Singh with a certificate of appreciation.
Pvt. Sasha Hill, a photography student at the Defense Information School, called Singh's speech "moving."
"It's inspirational to see her and see that she's moving forward," Hill said.