By Ms. Nicole Kirschmann (AMC)April 27, 2017
Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.-- One out of five American women and one out of 71 American men will be a victim of sexual assault, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It could be the person in the cubicle next to you, or the person you sit next to in the weekly team meeting, or the cheerful coworker who always tells jokes when you're feeling down. This isn't just a problem in "bad neighborhoods" or in the active-duty military, and it isn't a horror that only women face.
During Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Joint Munitions Command provides a two-part series examining sexual assault and, as a primarily-Civilian agency, how employees can do their part to change perceptions of sexual assault in the workplace culture.
The first part of the series is a story from a JMC Civilian who was previously an active-duty service member and expressed an interest in sharing her story. Her impetus in sharing this very personal story is to use her experience in a positive, empowering manner to bring sexual assault awareness to JMC.
Please note that parts of this interview might be graphic or disturbing to some readers.
Question: Please tell us whatever details you are comfortable with.
Answer: "In 2001, April was designated National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Six years prior to that April is also the month I was raped by four service members. At the time, I had been in the military for one year and three months. A soul shattered, an identity lost, a career ended too soon. Survivor. It is not all that I am, but just another chapter in my story. I am also a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an advocate, a volunteer, a friend, a coworker.
"I have always been deeply patriotic and have had a love of military history. I joined because of this belief and to further my education. I believed that in the military, I had found a place where I belonged, with people of the highest character, loyalty, courage, and strength.
"I was rendered unconscious for I don't know how long. When I regained consciousness, there were two males in my room raping me. I was confused, I was immediately terrified. "Stop! Who are you? What are you doing? Get off me! Stop!!!!"
"They didn't stop right away. I was yelling, screaming, and pushing them off of me. Finally they did stop and ran out of my room. The rest of the night/morning was a blur of phones calls and crying, showers, ambulances, investigators, the hospital, doctors, rape kit, photographer, vomiting…
"I don't remember what led the investigators to these individuals… if they had left something, I had said something, interviews with witnesses? Anyway, apparently there was mass amounts of evidence, which led to confessions by three of them.
"Since I have no memory of the entire assault, the investigators had to tell me what happened based on evidence and confessions, which is horrifying, to not even know what happened to you, and some stranger has to tell you.
"The ringleader had followed me to my barracks room. Once I was unconscious, he ran and retrieved his friends. One at a time, he brought his friends into my room while the other two waited their turns in the stairwell. For several weeks I didn't even know there were more than two. I didn't know these people, had not served with them. They were on temporary duty from another base. I had met or briefly spoken to one or two of them earlier in the evening.
"It happened on a Thursday night into the early morning of Friday. I was at the hospital until Friday afternoon. I was released and granted two days' quarters [a doctor's note excusing a service member from duties due to physical ailment].
"Saturday morning, my supervisor, who knew what had happened, called me into work. I didn't go.
"After the rape, fear took over my life. I was diagnosed with and still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Rape Trauma Syndrome - violent nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety attacks.
"Sometimes I still wake in the night, where they come after me in my dreams. Sometimes as I walk down the street or scan a crowd I see them, waiting to hurt me again. Being frozen in terror, unable to move, is the worst feeling in the world. The helplessness, loss of control over your mind and body can be debilitating."
Question: Do you feel that the military acted appropriately in handling your case? Did you get the support that you needed?
Answer: "There are things they did to me -- told to me by the investigators that made me physically ill. Things I have never spoken about, and probably will never be able to speak about.
"The military says they have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, but actions of some leadership promote tolerance. For instance: When my Executive Officer said to me 'Did you ever stop to think that there are people out there worse off than you?' When multiple times I heard how I ruined those four men's careers. When I heard through friends that they were told to stay away from me by their leadership. When, at trial, I was asked if I found any of them attractive, what was I wearing, did I flirt with any of them?
"Quit blaming the victim, quit making the victim prove their innocence, quit seeing it as a he said/she said. If I left my car unlocked and I saw who robbed it, would I have to prove that case too? Of course not."
Question: Do you feel that the military has made strides in combating sexual assault in the ranks?
Answer: "The military has come a long way since my sexual assault; however, I believe we can do better. We MUST do better. Let's be the example and show the world just how Army Strong we are.
To you victims and survivors: please know, you are not alone. I hear you, I see you, I am with you."
Question: What do you think we, at JMC, can do to change this perception?
Answer: "Sexual assault is the only crime where the victim has to prove their innocence. Change your thinking. Don't let society dictate your behavior. You know right from wrong. We are so cultured to think a certain way. Even me, now, still wanting to answer the usual questions: 'What were you wearing? Were you drinking?' So on and so on, even though those questions and answers are completely irrelevant.
"When you victim-blame, when you make rape jokes, just know that in all likelihood, someone you know and may love silently decides she cannot trust you anymore."
Part two of the series, an interview with an Army officer stationed at Rock Island Arsenal, will be published on Friday.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, there are resources available. Each Army installation and unit has a designated victim advocate. At JMC, you can contact the SHARP program manager Stann Quinn at 309-782-0302. Rock Island Arsenal provides a 24-hour hotline at 309-229-8412. The Department of Defense SAFE hotline is 877-995-5247.
An additional resource is the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). RAINN is not affiliated with the Department of Defense.