By Beth Ann Thomas Vann ‘98
I’ve written and destroyed my story about a thousand times over the last 21 years. It’s part of the process of healing, I’ve discovered. Ironically, it was in my 21st year of life that its trajectory changed forever. It was the Homecoming game of Firstie year. As far as I was concerned it was the downhill slide to graduation whichI wasn’t sure I’d ever make it to see. So, let the good times commence! After the game, I went with my classmate and former roommate to meet up with her cousin who graduated a couple years before us. At her class tailgate spot, while enjoying an adult beverage, she introduced me to a strapping young US Marine Captain who after a fun conversation asked me out. I was seriously enamored that a Marine grad asked me out. Annapolis was not a very active dating scene for me so the fact that a grad found me date-worthy was new and exciting. We met up one weekend for dinner and drinks and walked around town. Our next date, he picked me up outside the gate and we went to a restaurant and then, because I had to stay within 50 miles of the Yard and he lived beyond that distance, we got a hotel room to hang out in for the night at the Knights Inn in Annapolis. I can barely remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but there are 3 things etched in my mind FOREVER; the Knight’s Inn, his face, and his name…..
I was 21 and just a couple months earlier had sex for the first and only time, so sex was not on my radar for the evening. I was totally comfortable with the conversation and mutual attraction leading to kissing and making out. When it became clear that much more was expected, I tried to play along and diffuse the situation. The fear and anxiety built rapidly and time slowed down until it just froze. . . in those moments as he forced himself on me all I could think was he outweighed me by 100 pounds, no one will hear me scream, I have nowhere to run, I’m nearly naked – who will believe me that a USNA grad and Marine Captain forced himself on me, and just as the time froze so did my mind and my body. When he was done, he rolled over to sleep, and I laid next to him awake, motionless, afraid, confused, and silently crying for the rest of the night.
In the morning, I did not speak and I made sure to make the bed….who makes the fucking bed after being raped? A girl who wanted to hide all evidence of what occurred in that room that night. He drove me to the gate and dropped me off – I never saw him again.
I wandered back to my room, showered, and sat rocking on the floor. I really have no idea how long I sat there. The same friend I had been with on homecoming and my roommates tried to communicate with me, but I was in a fog. I’m pretty sure all I did was cry – there were no words. If I had to put words to those moments now, I was feeling absolute remorse, guilt, anger and shame. At some point, my friend’s boyfriend (also a Mid) picked me up off the floor, and the Naval Academy priest was standing in my door. Thank God my friends and classmates found me help. The priest convinced me he would tell no one and he led me to his office. He waited with me until I could speak. Eventually he convinced me to allow him to notify the USNA sexual assault victims’ advocate, a female US Marine Staff Sergeant.
She stood next to me for the next two weeks, the hardest weeks I had yet experienced. She sat with me at the clinic as they did a rape kit. She sat with me as I placed my clothes in the evidence bag at the NCIS office, and as I wrote my statement and answered seemingly a million questions about who, where, when, why. She let me cry and vent, and she sat with me two weeks after the assault when I finally called my parents to tell them that I was raped. That Marine Staff Sergeant, the Priest, and my friends are the only reasons I was able to pull it together enough to graduate.
Once the NCIS team explained to me how the court process was going to work and that I should expect to be on trial more than the aggressor, I decided that I did not want to travel that road. I just wanted to graduate and put it all behind me. I dropped the charges, prayed, and sent a letter to my rapist via his parent’s address which I found on the alumni website. I told him that God would handle his judgement one day and that I prayed he never made the decision to attack another woman again. I have no idea if he ever received or read that letter.
Truth is there is no putting it all behind me, there is just learning to live with the experience. Here’s my truth, I did not have sober sex until I met my husband 6 years later. I had drunk sex with people that I should not have and sadly, I was raped again, stalked, and mugged in those 6 years. I didn’t tell a soul because who would believe me and because I heard all the things people say about girls who report sexual assault.
She should have worn more clothes
She shouldn’t have been at that event
She shouldn’t travel by herself
She shouldn’t drink alcohol
She’s a whore
She teased him
She led him on
I know now, that’s all BULLSHIT!! I could have made better decisions, yep. Those bad decisions do not give permission to another human being to target and assault anyone. If you are judging me right now, you are missing the whole point. I WAS FORCED TO HAVE SEX WITHOUT CONSENT and that is NOT OKAY regardless of the surrounding details!
It has taken my husband a long time to understand that there is no getting over this for me. I can neatly put it in a compartment in my mind and live a normal and successful life. That experience packed neatly in my mind is really more of a jack-in-the-box that surprises the shit out of me some days. When my husband and I are intimate, I have to be in control and in those moments that should be centered on just him and me, at some point all the emotions are just too much, and I breakdown in tears because the guilt and shame still invite the memories of those three things that are FOREVER etched into my mind. I cry because the fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt are just as real in that moment as they were 21 years ago. I cry because I am not fully able to trust my husband who I know loves me. I cry because I can’t erase the picture of my rapist’s face. I cry because I am raising two sons and a daughter who I fear will experience sexual assault in some way in their lives. I cry because I don’t know what else to do.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. I am praying that my reason for living through this journey is to share it with you so that you know you are not alone and that you can navigate this. Together we will be okay. I pray that young and old will rethink the face of rape and the catalyst for why we make excuses for it in so many ways in our culture and in the military. I write it down with the hopes that we can educate so that assault is no longer common place. I want USNA to know what happened to me because I am not alone and someone else out there needs the help and support I got from the SAVI program, clergy, and counselors – IT MATTERS!