Thursday, June 19, 2014

TOP STORY>>‘Nobody asks for this’

By Airman 1st Class Cliffton Dolezal
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: The name of the victim in this article has been changed for the protection of the individual’s privacy as well as the privacy and integrity of the case. Be mindful that no two sexual assault stories are the same.

Rebecca woke up with the memories of last night scattered in her mind. The details of what happened were obscured. After drinking at a friend’s dorm, she could only recall little details. Stepping outside for fresh air, being unwittingly put into her “friend’s” bed, being too incapacitated to resist her “friend’s” sexual advances, fading to black. When the details were pieced back together, the obscure picture gained clarity: she had been sexually assaulted.

As the seconds were winding down in the final minutes of work on a Friday afternoon in May, a group of Airmen gathered to conceive plans for their weekend. After a quick discussion, it was settled. A night consisting of going to dinner with a few friends followed by some drinks at a friend’s house was the course of action.

It was a typical start for what would become a night that will haunt Rebecca for the rest of her life.

She and her friends went out to dinner, followed by a few drinks. After dinner, Rebecca returned to her dorm to grab her laptop before heading to anotherAirman’s room, where a party was taking place. Rebecca consumed several more alcoholic beverages throughout the night.

Rebecca said she wanted some fresh air and went outside, accompanied by her friends that she worked with and started up a conversation. After only a few minutes, Rebecca complained about being dizzy and had a seat on the ground.

“I remember sitting down outside, and the next thing I remember I was talking to a friend, not knowing what I was saying, but knowing I was moving my mouth,” said Rebecca.

Moments later, she said she remembered the warm muggy summer air suddenly dissipate and the cool refreshing breeze come over her from an air conditioner, instantly realizing she was no longer outside.

“I felt weightless for a moment,” she said.

Someone had carried her to a room and laid her down in a bed.

The lights were off, and her eyes closed as she passed out. She woke up several minutes later to find that she was in a different position than the way she had fallen asleep. Her legs hanging off the bed, she noticed someone between them. Too incapacitated to move, she fell back into the darkness.

Waking up later, she noticed her boots on the ground and she remembered someone leaning in for a kiss; she quickly turned away, dodging it. “Is this ok, is this ok?” her perpetrator asked. By the sound of his voice she recognized it was someone she knew - a “friend.”

She fell back into an unconscious state and woke up again in the morning.

Not knowing exactly what had happened the previous night. Rebecca quickly gathered her things and stumbled to her room accompanied by her perpetrator. She asked him to leave and went back to sleep, not waking up until late afternoon. Attempting to connect the fuzzy memories and broken pieces to the puzzle of what happened the previous night, Rebecca talked with friends who were also at the party with her.

She asked a friend to help her remember everything from that night. Her friend remembered carrying her. The perpetrator suggested that the friend put Rebecca in his room because it was closer. The friend had a bad feeling about it but left her there. Later on that night the friend went to check on Rebecca. The perpetrator answered the door with his shirt off insisting that everything was fine. He said Rebecca had thrown up but was sleeping it off. The friend did not intervene any further.

She started realizing that night she had become a victim of sexual assault. She had been taken advantage of and a fellow Airman violated her trust. She had been sexually assaulted.

Rebecca’s first reaction was disbelief.

“I was stuck in the whys: why me? Why am I going through this? Why did I have to be his victim?” Rebecca said.

Rebecca spent the rest of the weekend trying to process what happened. Several times she unsuccessfully called and texted her perpetrator for answers. He eventually texted her back admitting that they had sex, but she said she knew it wasn’t consensual.

“It took me a while to put myself together and figure out what I had to do,” she said. Rebecca reported to work the following Monday.

She discussed what she knew about the events that took place that weekend with a friend at work. After Rebecca had given the details to a co-worker, he took her straight to their section chief who in turn took her to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.

The SARC told Rebecca she had done the right thing by coming in and immediately began working on her case, assigning her a victim’s advocate.

A victim’s advocate is a person trained to support victims of sexual assault. It is not mandatory for a victim to be assigned an advocate, however, it is encouraged.

“It was hard to trust anybody, but my victim’s advocate understood that,” said Rebecca.

Before the trial process began, she was offered a Special Victims’ Counsel. An SVC provides confidential legal advice to develop victims’ understanding of the investigation and justice processes. He or she also provides advocacy by protecting the rights afforded to victims in the military justice system and empowering victims by removing barriers to their full participation in the justice process. The SVC program is new and a regionally based program that is offered across the Air Force as a program aimed specifically at victims’ rights.

After several meetings and court hearings, accompanied by her SVC, Rebecca’s perpetrator was prosecuted. He was found guilty of four violations of Article 120. His sentence was seven years of confinement and reduction in grade to E-1.

After this grueling process, life returned to normal but not for Rebecca. There is only a new normal for victims of sexual assault.

“I couldn’t be alone with any one male,” Rebecca said. “If a guy is behind me, I’m like, ‘Why is he behind me? What is he doing over there? Why does he keep looking at me? Why is he coming over here?’”

With one battle coming to a close, another took its place, changing Rebecca forever.

“Traumatic events never leave you,” said Capt. Christina Weathers, a 19th Medical Operations Squadron psychologist.

Since the assault Rebecca was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

According to the 19th Medical Operations Squadron PTSD is diagnosed by meeting criteria from a specific diagnostic statistic manual.

“Successful PTSD treatment is defined when a victim can fully engage in the present moment of everyday life with minimal symptoms thereby improving the quality of life for a patient,” Weathers said.

The hardest parts of recovery, Rebecca said, have been denial and having a support system.

“You’re going to need support. Look for someone. There is someone out there,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca has a long way to recovery, but she said with the help of her leadership, the SARC, her Special Victims’ Counsel, her friends and herself, she aims high to overcome misfortune.

“I have to be strong because no one is going to do it for me,” said Rebecca.

Remember that if you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, contact the SARC office 24/7 at (501) 987-7272.

“No one can help if they don’t know. Don’t ever say you’re at fault; they have a choice. They always have a choice.”

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