ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- One in six males have been sexually assaulted before the age 18; one in four females are sexually assaulted before age 18.
Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone addressed these statistics in his keynote address during the annual U.S. Army Sexual Harassment/ Assault Response & Prevention, or SHARP, Expo held here Sept. 21, sponsored by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or RDECOM.
The annual SHARP Expo serves to increase awareness of sexual assault for the entire APG community. Participants engaged in several activities that served to heighten their awareness of sexual assault.
His journey, Stone said, was from being a victim to becoming a survivor of sexual assault.
SHARP is the Army program aimed at preventing sexual assault and providing resources for victims, both military and civilian. SHARP's services are primarily for the military but a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or SARC, can direct civilians to local, state or national resources for help.
Col. Ray Compton, RDECOM chief of staff, introduced Stone.
"He has had multiple assignments through his tours and multiple deployments in combat. That is not the reason he's here. He's here to tell us his story. Listen, understand, and imagine what a survivor goes through."
"When I was 15 years old a male teacher raped me," Stone began.
With both parents serving in the Armed Forces, he spent most of his time with his grandparents, specifically his grandfather. Stone recalls going to Krispy Kreme every night and activities they would do together.
In 1990, his grandfather passed away. "Of course this left a hole in my heart and I was looking for a role model."
A year later, Stone began working at a Chinese restaurant where he met a man who would later sexually assault him. This man taught science at the local middle school and took an interest in Stone. He knew how to make Stone feel special.
"He felt like a father figure. He genuinely listened and took interest in what I had to say about music, movies, books or life. I took that to heart. This is a man I can look up to as I grow up."
Stone became close to this man over the next year, before being sexually assaulted. Looking back, Stone recognizes that the man was grooming him.
Grooming is establishing and later manipulating an emotional bond to lower inhibitions for any act of sexual assault. This is commonly seen with victims of human trafficking. Establishing this bond may include gifts, babysitting and even discussing sexual topics or watching pornography, normalizing what would otherwise be inappropriate behavior.
That first year, nothing unusual happened. Stone would go over to the man's house and they would hang out in his man cave and just talk.
"He was the father I wanted," Stone said.
Everything changed one August morning in 1992. He told Stone that he had a couple cassettes to show him in the man cave where nothing inappropriate had ever happened.
"That morning, I don't know if it was planned or out of opportunity, but he raped me," Stone said, as the Expo audience sat in rapt attention.
Stone didn't know what the man would do after the sexual assault, but he does remember every detail.
"I hear a lot of stories from survivors. During trauma, your brain goes into survival mode and you tend to lose (memory of) details. I cannot say the same for me. I remember everything from the time he touched me, until the time he was finished."
Though he does not remember riding his bike 10 miles back to his house.
In our society, Stone said, we teach our boys if you couldn't even defend yourself, you are considered weak. Stone kept his feelings to himself, accepted it and moved on.
He never spoke to the man again but received a letter a few days later. While never explicitly writing about the sexual assault, Stone says it was clear that something inappropriate happened between an adult and a minor. Stone read it once and threw it away. His mother found it in the trash and knew something was wrong.
When she confronted him, Stone said they had gotten into an argument and that was it. He said that was not going to admit anything to her.
"What 15-year-old boy is going to admit to his mother that he was raped by another man? None."
Soon after, Stone experienced depression and wanted to get as far away from home as possible. Wanting a break from school, he joined the Army after graduation.
The Army kept him busy and he kept his professional and personal lives separate. From the time the flag was raised at 06:00, until 17:00, he was a Soldier. After retreat, he describes himself as "a scared little kid in the barracks, crying and cutting himself to deal with what was going on inside."
He kept this secret for 17 years.
In January 2010, Stone had a flashback, reliving that morning all over again. He decided to seek help and enrolled in a behavioral outpatient program the next morning. In a group of 15 civilians and him the only military, Stone told his story in complete detail for the first time.
A month after finishing the program, he looked up the statute of limitations for statutory rape of a minor and found there isn't one. Stone called the local police department, made a report and didn't think much would happen. He was asked to give a written statement.
One week later, Stone received a call that the man had been arrested. The detective found a copy of the letter sent to Stone after the assault in the man's teacher's file. Stone's mother had believed there was more to the letter and went to the school board. The man was fired.
During the trial, judgments and comments were made about the 'former student.' The man plead out before public trial. "I may have said the same things. Until you have walked in a survivor's shoes, you don't know what you are going to do.
"So now I tell my story. Every book I have read or speaker I have seen is a female face. We typically think it's a male on a female," Stone said.
With social stigmas and victim blaming, there are many male victims who never report a sexual assault, which covers the spectrum from touching to rape. Stone uses the word rape because it grabs attention.
"It's hard. It's hard and it makes you think,"
"I want to get my face out there because I want to show that as a senior NCO, seeking help did not end my career. I speak during in-processing to mostly 18 or 19 year old kids. I don't want these kids to go 17 years holding in a secret when they can get help now.
"Living with this should not be tolerated and if I can help one person, there's hope they'll pass it on."
Local and national resources available:
• SHARP Resource Center APG 24 hour hotline: (410) 322-7154, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://www.apg.army.mil/Toolbox/SHARP
• SHARP DOD safe helpline: 1 (877)-995-5247, www.preventsexualassault.army.mil
• Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC) 24 hour helpline, Harford County: (410) 836-8430, www.sarc-maryland.org
• Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) 24 hour helpline: 1 (800) 656-4673, https://www.rainn.org/
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.