By Michelle, Frontline ContributorJuly 28, 2011
It’s been a couple of years, but it still affects me nearly everyday in one way or the other. It was someone I knew. Someone I worked with. I invited him in. When it happened, I froze. I was in shock. [He pushed me down, face first on the tile floor.] I laid there for what seemed like forever before I got over my shock. Then I started fighting back. I was able to get away without him committing the full act of rape, but it was still a sexual assault. Nearly four years later, I am still affected by it … by him.
I don’t remember his last name, but I still can describe him “to a tee.” I was ashamed when it happened and I blamed myself. For the most part I have healed and I know it was not my fault even though I still have some issues dealing, especially since I invited him in.
One senior NCO came up behind me who was a three time Operation Iraqi Freedom Vet, six-foot-three to my five-foot-six and 120 pounds frame.
He came up behind me while I was in the middle of a flashback and I automatically went into fight response and sent him to the floor with an unexpected wham- back punch. A roommate once tried to wake me up while I was having a nightmare and I broke her arm.
Once I recognized I needed help I used a variety of resources that the Army has available; behavioral health, Victim’s Advocate, EO, the Chaplains and Military One Source. All of them helped in a variety of ways.
What still affects me though, is the wide range of responses I have gotten from my battles, NCO Support Channel and Chain of Command in response to healing and being able to be a “survivor” instead of a “victim.” Some have been really positive like a command senior leader who “ordered” me to attend a support group through the Rape Crisis Center off post once a week and he also provided me with transportation to and from group. There was also an NCO instructor who low crawled with me for more than half of a night live fire course because I started freaking out about being on my stomach that long and not being able to stand due to the “circumstances” of the exercise which caused memories of the assault to come flooding in. She let me yell at her and I know I would not have made it through that course without her help.
There was also another NCO instructor who helped me with combatives. At that point in time, I was past the stage where I had to do combatives with another female. However, I needed to work on not panicking and letting the memories control me when I was in certain positions. Once he understood the situation, he helped me by pulling me aside and working with me one and one. He would briefly get me in a position where I couldn’t get myself out of it. We kept switching places. We worked it step by step. I still get a little anxious when my unit does combatives but thanks to this NCO, I can now control it.
These experiences have been unfortunately, not the norm. I have been told to grow up, that I should be over by it now, that I should be strong enough not to get counseling, that I deserved it, to suck it up, and that I belonged in an insane asylum by members of the Army of all ranks and in all positions. A good majority of this happened in front of other of other people. The good news is that, in retrospect, I can honestly say that only a few of them are inappropriate. The rest are just clueless in how to help people who have been through something like I have. They genuinely want to help but don’t know how.
I certainly can’t speak for everyone who has been sexually assaulted or raped. Nor do I want to. What I’d like to offer is what worked for me so that those people, Soldiers, NCOs, officers who may meet someone who has been a survivor of sexual assault and would like to help them, know what to do and most importantly what not to do.
First of all do not talk to the survivor (or yell at them if that is what you intend to do) in front of others, especially their peers and subordinates. It’s degrading and it made me feel worse and hesitant to speak up about needing and getting help.
Whether it’s like the NCO instructor who worked with me on the night course or running and yelling at the same time (yelling while running does wonders). There also comes a time when we need to just cry. Let the survivor know that if they need a “time out” they can come to you and you will find a place for them for ten to fifteen minutes. During an FTX, an NCO let me and another battle go for about half an hour so I could cry and scream my head off. I felt so much better after that.
Be understanding about scheduling appointments. There are many places and groups available; however most counseling does take place during the duty day. If the survivor needs to talk to someone, let him or her do so and not make him or her feel like less of a Soldier because they had to miss PT to go to Behavioral Health or lunch recall because that is when their counselor was available.
My last piece of advice is that if the survivor trusts you (and if they don’t, find someone that they do) to work with them on things that make them anxious and that cause panic. For me it was primarily two things: combatives and firing in the prone position (anything that I had to be on my stomach for more than a minute). My battles and NCOs were extremely helpful in conquering these two areas.
Lastly to survivors of sexual assault and rape, you are not alone. You won’t be the same as you were before it happened. But you can move forward. You can heal. There is help out there; don’t be afraid to ask for it. It is your life and you deserve to move on. It is also not your fault. No means no, no matter who you are, or what happened the second before you were assaulted.