DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich — “I believe that hearing from the [sexual assault] survivor’s allows participants to connect to the content in a more personal nature,” said Sgt. 1st Class Fransheska Wiggins, U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program Victim Advocate. “It allows them to see themselves in the shoes of the victim and realize that in certain circumstances these events could happen to them.
Wiggins stated that individuals dialing into the “Survivors Speak” Teams event from the Detroit Arsenal, Michigan Apr. 22 are not the only ones that learn from the sessions and that the survivors also benefit from the participation.
“Being able to tell their stories allows the survivors to continue the healing process,” said Wiggins. “They are also at a crossroads in their healing where they feel they can help others to come forward by telling their story.”
Their stories are part of the ongoing effort to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Department of Defense during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The event also allowed the TACOM workforce to interact with survivors.
As the primary coordinator for the “Survivors Speak” sessions, Wiggins wanted to get away from the typical sexual assault lecture type briefings for this TACOM SAAPM observance.
The first to tell their story in this session was James Landrith, a Marine veteran. Landrith currently works as a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Marines at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Landrith’s trauma began in the fall of 1990, just after he joined the Marine Corps stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He went out with a friend he had not known long to a new wave club in town. The friend had brought a civilian female that Landrith had never met before.
His friend ended up leaving the club early leaving the female behind without a ride.
Although Landrith had offered to give her a ride home, she wanted to stay until the club closed. Since Landrith was underage, it was difficult for him to buy drinks, which she did for them both.
“Throughout the night, she was physically responsible for getting my drinks,” said Landrith. “I don’t know if she potentially put something in them.”
When they left the club, he quickly realized he was losing his ability to think coherently, and they ended up getting a room. He ended up passing out in the hotel, only to later wake up with her on top of him with his pants removed.
“She informed him that she was in charge,” said Landrith. ““I didn’t know what to think, I knew I wasn’t interested.”
Because of his intoxication and inability to resist, there was not a lot he could do. Through her actions and body language, she let him know that she was going to do what she wanted.
Following the incident, Landrith did not really know what to do. The Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program did not exist, and women at the time could not be charged as a perpetrator in sexual assault cases in North Carolina according to Landrith.
“Victim shaming also prevented me from coming forward,” said Landrith. “They find ways to make you feel like it’s your fault.”
It took time for Landrith to realize the experience he went through in the Corps was rape while discussing his trauma with a female friend.
“People typically don’t believe that a man can be raped by a woman,” he said.
Since his revelation, he has been working on personal healing, and sharing his story to help others come forward.
Following Landrith’s segment, Air Force Master Sgt. Lakeydra Houston shared her story of sexual assault which occurred about a year after she joined the Air Force. She had just arrived on station and was checking into her new command when she was sexually assaulted by one of her unit leaders.
“At that moment, I didn’t know what sexual assault meant, because it was never really talked about,” Houston said.
Houston found out later that this had happened before to another female who worked in an office outside where it occurred.
“She told me if you say anything, you will get kicked out,” she said. “I didn’t tell anybody for a long time, because I didn’t want to get kicked out.”
Houston went on to indicate that others within the command knew that her assaulter had done this before and never did anything about it.
“It was just a cruel joke,” she said. “What is the point of saying anything or telling anyone.”
Throughout the rest of her assignment, Houston kept quiet and transferred to another duty station, where she was sexually assaulted again.
“I began drinking just to get over the anxiety,” Houston said. “I just wanted to get rid of the fear, the memories, and the recurring dreams.”
According to Houston, she used alcohol to numb the feeling of being sexually assaulted for her first twelve years in the military.
Her initial attempts at counseling in the military, after living with the trauma about 17 years were a disaster, because she did not feel her counselor was taking the situation seriously.
“I felt like no one cared,” Houston said.
Eventually she attempted suicide, her husband at the time was able to stop it.
“I was tired of everything, the drinking, the partying, the lack of people who cared,” she said. “I was triggered by the smell of cologne on a guy that wore the same one as one of my assaulters.
After the failed attempts of trying to get help, Houston was able to finally start healing by connecting with someone on Instagram and doing things that allowed her to start healing physically, mentally, and spiritually.
“I started finding things that I loved about myself from prior to the sexual assaults,” Houston said.
Houston eventually came across other survivors and got involved with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, which further allowed her to heal.
“This is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Houston. “I hope you are taking your time to understand us as survivors and take our experiences and learn from it.”
As a SARC, Landrith says that one thing a friend can do is believe, be there in the moment, and ask how you can help.
“Tell them to take their time,” said Landreth. “Stop what you are doing and put your full focus on that person, and make sure if they want you to do something. A lot of times they just want you to listen while they talk.”
If they want help, attempt to help them or find them the help they need. They have taken a huge step in their own healing journey, according to Landrith. At this point, they have decided you are a safe person.
“Most people don’t file a report, because they just want to move on and heal,” Landrith said.