(Adapted from a Speech Given to Survivors of Sexual Assault)
by A Silent Sister
Years ago, two men, whom I thought I could trust, raped me while I was at the service academy. At the time, I did not want to report the incident due to my fears of revictimization, humiliation, and powerlessness. Instead of seeking help from the military institution, I went to a local civilian hospital with the intention of keeping the assaults quiet. However, the plan backfired on me, and the local police reported the incident to the service academy anyway. The service academy lawyer and criminal investigators pushed me into reporting the assaults. After enduring much pain in reporting the incident and being revictimized by my own classmates and leadership, I was told that there was very little the lawyer could do to help in the prosecution of these men, and the lawyer encouraged me not to initiate a court martial due to lack of evidence. If I knew it would end like this, I would have never asked for help.
The men walked away free as I continued to struggle for survival. I felt helpless and powerless through the entire process. I never received any justice or closure when I graduated from the service academy. I still fear that I may run into these men someday. Even years later, they still haunt me. It has been the hardest challenge of my life and has tested my most inner being.
Traumatic events affect people in different ways. For me, before I knew anything about PTSD, I avoided physical intimacy to gain some sense of control and empowerment. After losing my husband because of my PTSD, I realized I had very little control and was still allowing the past to control my life. I was forgetting to live in the moment. I had to find a way to continue living without the past taking over my life. I promised myself that I would not allow these two men get the best of me. I know I can beat this somehow, somewhere, someday and other survivors should know that they can do the same as well.
I’m not writing this to tell you about my challenges, but to empower those who may still be lost. After much blood, sweat and tears, I am here to tell you that there is hope. You are not alone. There are many others like you and me with different stories to tell, but we all have similar struggles in life. There are amazing counselors and support groups who are waiting for you with open arms when you are ready. It took me seven years to find the help that I truly needed. I am extremely grateful to have such supportive friends and family to have helped me through my hard times.
If you don’t have someone to confide in, allow yourself to open your heart and find the strength to cross that boundary to find help. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are good people in this world who genuinely care about your well-being and only want the best for you. If you don’t take those risks, you will never find the support that you truly need. Yes, you may encounter good and bad people, but you have no control over their actions, only your own. So, don’t let your fears hold you back. Embrace them and allow yourself to live in the moment. You only have one life to live and I’m sure you never planned on living the rest of your life in darkness. So, grab that rope, climb out and feel that sunshine on your face because you are worth it. Give back the blame to the person who rightfully deserves it, the perpetrator. I guarantee you a huge weight will be lifted off your chest, and you will be able to breathe again and live more freely without fear.
I know it has been a difficult road to travel on, but you need to believe in yourself and find that inner strength to continue fighting and surviving. The best advice I can give to you is to take one day at a time. You may have to take one step back before you can move two steps forward. That is ok, because each time you take that one step back, you will learn and grow from it and it will make you stronger. It takes time to heal, accept the past for what it is, and move on. Think of it as a journey, and you’re trying to find your way back home.
I am just one voice of many thousands of survivors in the Armed Forces. We are all survivors. We are stronger than we have ever imagined possible. Find the courage to take back your life. If we stand up together to provide sexual assault awareness to all, support victims, and hold offenders accountable for their actions, we will make an impact on future generations in the prevention of sexual assaults. That’s what it’s all about…giving the power back to the survivors.