The Untold Story of Military Sexual Assault
It was 1974, and I was 19 years old, serving in the United States Air Force, and I thought I was the only one.
It was early spring and I had finished working in the Minuteman missile complex at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Tired and dirty, I’d just made it to the chow hall before it closed for the evening. On the way back to my dormitory, as dusk fell, I took a shortcut through a construction site.
Something struck my head and I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, there were two men holding me. At first, I thought that an object had fallen and hit me, and that these people were trying to help me. I soon realized they were holding me down. When I struggled, they started punching me in the head. They told me to shut up or they’d kill me.
A third man grabbed my pants and pulled down my underwear.
“I bet you’re going to like this,” he said.
The pain was unbearable, but what I thought about was all the things I hadn’t done in my life because I believed they were going to kill me when they were done. When they’d finished, all three started kicking me as I lay on the ground, curled in a fetal position to protect myself.
“You tell anyone, we’re gonna come back and kill you,” they said. All I knew at that moment was intense relief that I was going to live.
Although I could tell that these were fellow airmen in uniform, it was too dark for me to see their faces. I don’t know how long I lay there, but eventually, I got myself together and went back to the dorm. It was a Friday night and my roommate had gone home to St. Louis for the weekend. Relieved that I would not have to explain myself, I went to the sink and cleaned myself up as best I could.
I holed up for the rest of the weekend, avoiding people. When I went back to work Monday morning, guys saw the bruises.
“What happened to you?” they asked.
“Oh,” I said. “I was out at a bar and got into a fight.”
I was not the only one. According to the Department of Defense’s Military Sexual Assault Report for 2012, an estimated 26,000 members of the United States military, both men and women, were sexually assaulted in that year. The Pentagon survey almost certainly underreports the scale of the issue. Of those sexual assaults, 53 percent (approximately 14,000 in 2012) were attacks on men. A vast majority of perpetrators are men who identify themselves as heterosexual.
These facts are horrifying enough, but when institutions like the military, closed systems that lack oversight, do not validate the experience of the rape survivor, the perpetrators get to continue their criminal behavior without consequence.
I kept my secret for 30 years. I never told.
I went on to serve 20 years in the Air Force, retiring at the rank of technical sergeant. After that, I bounced around from civilian job to civilian job. I finally settled at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, and eventually became plant manager for the Air Force Research Laboratories, before being medically retired for joint pain.
But my real problems were psychological. Sexual assault, whether in the military or in civilian life, is solely about the abuse of power, about control and domination. The lasting scars it leaves are psychic. I suffered from depression; my personal relationships were troubled and always failed. I made several suicide attempts; finally, after my last, I wound up in front of a seasoned social worker at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Northport, N.Y.
My denial was strong: I came up with all kinds of diversionary reasons why I was depressed. Then, one day, in the middle of a counseling session, she asked me flat out:
“So why don’t you tell me about the rape?”