HomeNewsArticle Display

Sexual assault survivor: One Airman’s story

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Sexual assault is a hot topic -- one addressed in annual training and at commander's calls throughout the Air Force -- yet the details of victims' stories are seldom mentioned. This is understandable. These crimes against service members are intensely personal. Also, as many survivors have learned, listeners don't always know how to respond appropriately, which can make sharing one's story awkward, even painful.

This is unfortunate. As humans we are drawn to stories. We reflect upon them and even internalize some of their values, ideas and attitudes. Stories communicate with extraordinary effectiveness, enabling us to learn not only from personal experience but also from others' experiences. Are we missing out on a potentially powerful tool in the world of sexual assault prevention? Perhaps calling on survivors to bravely share their stories holds real potential for making those serving alongside them more aware of sexual assault and of ways they can prevent it in their spheres of influence. To that end, here is my story.

Like most men I know, I never really thought much about sexual assault. I saw the issue as predominately a female problem that only happened to males under highly unusual circumstances and in unusual settings, such as prison. So, each year I endured the Air Force's mandatory sexual assault training but never examined people in my life for indicators of predatory behavior, or spent any time considering issues like stalking, grooming, or consent. Little did I know that, like many other victims of both genders, I was oblivious to the impending threat until it was too late.

Though the sexual assault I endured was not my fault, I failed to recognize the warning signs that escalated in the preceding months. Upon returning from a deployment, I found the girl I had been dating had unexpectedly moved most of her belongings into my house. I had left her a key to have her occasionally check on my house, but was nowhere near ready for her to move in. As our relationship had already become rocky during the deployment, her unilateral move forced me to break things off. I made certain to get back the key to my house, returned her belongings, and left the state on leave. That's when the text messages started.

At first they came almost hourly, throughout the day and occasionally into the night. I read the first couple apologies and deleted the rest on sight. I tried to have the phone company block her, but at that time blocking texts required a restraining order from the court. Since my only other options were to get a new number or put up with it, I chose the latter.

When I returned from leave, the stalking escalated from text messages to showing up on my doorstep every few days. As she lived 45 minutes away, these were not visits of chance. I would ignore her, drive into my garage and shut the door. Before long, it was getting so bad that I remained locked in my house, except while I was at work, and only opened my door at night to get my mail. I discovered later on that she had purchased a house down the street from me. One day, I woke up to find every single window and door covered with post-it notes saying, "I'm sorry." I didn't even attempt to take the notes down for fear she'd come over while I removed them. The night before the sexual assault, I unlocked the door and checked my mail. Either I forgot to lock the deadbolt when I went inside or she made a copy of my key, but the outcome was the same: she had access to me inside my house.

I remember waking up to her sitting beside me on the bed with her mouth and hands on me. I completely froze, unsure of what to do or how to react. At some point, she noticed that I was awake and said something, but I have no idea what that was. I was tremendously conflicted because my body was responding to something that I knew was completely wrong. She moved from oral sex to anal intercourse, which was far beyond anything we had engaged in physically during our relationship. I remember the pain and disgust from that but little else. When she finished, she tried to converse some more and attempted to cuddle, but I just lay there. Eventually she gave up and left, so I locked the door to the house and took a shower. I remember washing repeatedly, playing the events in my head over and over, unable to understand what had just happened. However, the thought that I had been sexually assaulted never even crossed my mind. I wrote it off as a horrible sexual encounter and tried not to think about it. There was no way I was ever going to tell anyone what had happened.

Over the next couple weeks my situation turned from bleak to completely despairing. Still reeling from the shock of the initial assault, I did nothing to stop her as she came over and assaulted me several more times. Each time I would try to wash off the shame from the events but felt powerless to stop them from happening. I had no will to resist doing what she wanted and felt completely broken and alone.
Many aspects of the assault made little sense to me. I knew that what had happened was wrong, but I blamed myself because my body had responded to the stimulation. In my mind, I paired the arousal with enjoyment and let my assailant continue. We also live in a society where males are expected to want sex all the time. To complain about having sex -- no matter how wrong -- would go against normal expectations of young men. Would I be seen as weak for not fighting back? Would I be seen as unmanly for not wanting to have sex with someone? If I ever got married, what would my wife think? My fears about how others would respond only drove me to further isolation. I was afraid of my assailant and let her do things to me that I never wanted to happen, but I couldn't understand my fear, let alone explain it to someone else.

It wasn't until weeks later, when I was talking with my sister, that I had the courage to describe what had taken place. She didn't even hesitate to tell me that I had clearly been sexually assaulted. I argued that that was impossible. Only when she pointed out that I had been asleep and couldn't possibly have given consent did I begin to realize the truth behind her assertion. I had seen the definition of sexual assault numerous times in Air Force briefings, but the lack of consent in my own case had never even dawned on me. With that newfound understanding, I gained the courage to file a police report. I don't know what actions the police took, but I never saw my assailant again, and the text messages dwindled down but persisted until I finally changed my number. Eventually I notified the SARC on base and started down the road to recovery.

Through that process, I came to realize just how little I truly understood about sexual assault. A vast majority of sexual assaults occur between people with an existing association, be it through work, mutual friends or an intimate relationship. This goes for both males and females. I had always thought that fight or flight mechanisms were the only instinctive human responses to danger. Think about when you hear a loud crash nearby: do you run toward it, run away immediately, or freeze and try to figure out what the sound is before taking either of the other two actions? I learned that many sexual assault victims never make it past the instinctive response of freezing. Additionally, many sexual predators groom their victims in order to decrease the likelihood of fighting back or fleeing. Some assailants use force or threats of force, but fear can be just as effective, as I learned through my situation. Control through fear is why many predators stalk their victims before, during or after sexual assaults. With cell phones and social media, stalking is becoming more prevalent and easier to engage in from a distance.

One of the final pieces I came to understand was the nature of control that impacted the events after the initial assault. For years, I blamed myself for everything that occurred after the initial incident. This changed when I heard how many sexual assault victims find themselves subjected to repeat assaults from the same perpetrator. Through grooming tactics, including manipulation and progressively undermining resistance, predators can more easily bypass normal defensive reactions and boundaries. Once those barriers have been removed, assailants use despair, shame, or fear to trap their victims and perpetuate the sexual abuse. This is particularly true within the first couple weeks, while the victim is suffering from the shock and trauma of the initial assault. Only upon hearing this did I begin to perceive that I had been assaulted -- not once, but multiple times -- and was not to blame for any of it.

Even still, it took me a long time to be comfortable with sharing my experiences. That all changed, due to some tremendous words of encouragement from a former wing command chief. I witnessed as he confidently stood in front of over 100 people and plainly laid out how he had been sexually assaulted as a young man. Unashamed, he proclaimed that while he had been victimized, sexual assault does not define him. Rather, he is defined by who he chooses to be: a chief, a leader, an Airman. That single moment affected a complete paradigm shift in my thinking. My sexual assault does not define me. Sure, it impacted my life, but it does not make me who I am. From that realization, I found the courage to begin telling my story. With each person I told, the fear of ostracism diminished and I truly came to understand the value behind the chief's words. My hope is that those words will ring true for other victims of sexual assault. Victimization of males has no correlation to strength, manliness, or sexual orientation. The simple fact is that they are victims of a terrible crime.

My story is just one of thousands from the lives of our Airmen. You may not personally identify with my experience, and if not I'm glad. But I do hope you will consider how you can take an active role in prevention. This calls for conscious commitment, and, I realize, you may have to challenge yourself in some areas. Will you be able to recognize situations where inappropriate control could lead to a sexual assault? Will you remain vigilant for stalking, grooming and other predatory behaviors in order to intervene before matters escalate? Will you stay attuned to signs of distress, including isolation, and significant behavioral or performance changes? Will you reach out to those within your sphere of influence and offer support without judgment or retribution? Only you can answer, and committing to these actions will cost you time and attention. Yet the Airmen we serve alongside are worth your effort. So, if you listen to our stories, I urge you -- take them to heart.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.