At 21, Jacinda considered her male coworkers in the Navy to be her brothers. That was before she awoke in a drunken haze, bleeding from being anally raped after a party at the barracks.
She couldn’t find her shirt; so she wrapped a blanket around herself and walked directly across the street to the military police. They told Jacinda she shouldn’t have been drinking among so many men, and that she should chalk up the consequences to poor judgment and go home. The military police also intimidated her with threats of imprisonment if her report were judged to be false.
Frightened, Jacinda lied about her injuries when she went to the infirmary.
That was 15 years ago. Today, Jacinda says, “I’m unable to maintain relationships. I don’t trust men. I have no children. I also have OCD behaviors, such as checking and rechecking locked doors. I pull out my hair sometimes, one strand at a time. I chew my nails to the bone, and I suffer from panic attacks and generalized anxiety.”
It took many years and four denials before the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) finally granted Jacinda resources to help treat her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Jacinda says she doesn’t regret her military service, but she wouldn’t do it again.
Jacinda’s story is far from unique. In 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that, while the number of military sexual assaults reported the previous year totaled around 3,000, the actual number of rapes was likelier to be 19,000. And as the Academy Award-nominated documentary "The Invisible War" demonstrated, military sexual assault (MST) is a veritable epidemic across the armed forces.
TakePart spoke to a handful of survivors about their personal experiences with MST. Their names have all been changed.
Diane came from a military family. Joining the Air Force at age 24 seemed a natural choice. She was in her room at an Air Force base when an airman she knew broke in through the bathroom and raped her. She went to the hospital, hoping desperately that no one at work would find out.
Diane failed to receive the privacy she wanted. A girl in the next room found out that Diane had requested a forensic kit (rape kit) and promptly told Diane’s supervisor. Diane was terrified.
She tells TakePart of the man who raped her: “I knew the type of guy he appeared to be. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. He just didn’t seem capable of something like this. I feared I would be ostracized. I needed others to do some of my duties as a jet mechanic. I feared no one would work with me for fear that I would get them in trouble. Sexual harassment was a common thing and accepted throughout my squadron. I knew people would be leery of me and afraid that I might report them as well.”
Treatment proved to be difficult. She tells TakePart, “I thought I was going crazy after this happened. I wanted to be institutionalized to get a handle on my life again, but the only place available had all males on the floor and wouldn’t allow me to lock my door at night. I couldn’t bear it; so I was put in an outpatient facility with combat vets. I was relieved to know someone else was going through what I was, and I wasn’t going crazy. I was sleeping with knives and had weapons hid in my locker at work, in my house, and in my car. I couldn’t sleep because of the dreams. I couldn’t go out of my house for fear of what people were capable of.”
Now 31, Diane says, “I regret I didn’t know rape was a hazard to military service.… I loved the military. I wish this never happened so I could still be doing what I loved.”
Sienna was 31 when she joined the Navy. She hoped to secure an education and to travel the world. She invited a coworker, who had recently returned from a yearlong deployment, out for beers with her friends. She drank a couple of beers, but he drank far more, and ended up vomiting in the parking lot. She offered to let him crash on her couch.
“He came into my room after I went to bed,” she tells TakePart. “I said no repeatedly and did fight him off. I thought it was over, but after I fell asleep he came back in my room. He pinned me while I was asleep.” She awoke to find the man on top of her, raping her.
Sienna didn’t report the rape: She would have been required to admit that she’d driven a vehicle after having a few beers. She feared being charged with an alcohol-related incident. She also felt that as a female mechanic, it would have ruined her career.
Her PTSD began with sleep problems and progressed to crippling panic attacks. She eventually left work for two months to seek psychiatric help. She also sought treatment in a military PTSD program.
Today, she’s a 40-year-old college student studying to be a trauma counselor. She tells TakePart, “Everything that happened to me has made me stronger. My experiences will help me help others.”