He asked her out for Valentine's Day. She was an Army private, a 39-year-old single mom who enlisted late in life. He was a smart-talking seasoned soldier whose advances flattered her.
They dined at a restaurant in the quaint European resort town where they were stationed. She nursed a half glass of wine and raised an eyebrow as he downed five or six drinks.
She drove him back to his barracks. When they got to his room, he put on the film Jarhead. While the movie's volume blared, he forced himself on her, she recalled, raping and sodomizing her.
When I met her three years after the assault, she was coming out of a crippling depression that had transformed her from an outdoorsy extrovert who loved to hunt, fish and rummage yard sales, to a recluse who went grocery shopping at 2 a.m. to avoid people.
"You're humiliated. You're scared. You're pissed," she told me, afflicted in the purgatory of emotions she lived with daily. She approached life with a jaded cynicism that was a flimsy cover for the rage bubbling beneath.
I'm certain part of her anger was from battling the stigma that sexually assaulted female service members somehow invite these crimes on themselves for the mere fact they work in a traditionally male dominated field.
In February the "She asked for it" fallacy reared its sexist head when Fox News commentator Liz Trotta pointed to the rise of sex crimes in the military as reasons why women shouldn't be in combat (like we aren't already). It's disturbing reasoning that begs the question, what did the victim do wrong? Trotta's reasoning makes out female troopers as a liability that must somehow be dealt with, but doesn't deal with the real issue at hand: the perverts perpetrating these crimes.
As backward as the military has been in matters of gender equity, I'm thankful top brass doesn't share Trotta's views and more importantly, are turning words into action.
Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff head Gen. Martin Dempsey unveiled new steps to stop sexual assault in the military.
Each branch of service will now have a special victims unit. Additionally, colonels or Navy captains will oversee sexual assault investigations, rather than lower ranking officers.
Other measures include requiring all incoming active duty troops be briefed on sexual assault policies within 14 days on the job. Also, sexually assaulted National Guard and reservist members will be able to remain on active duty status while their cases are investigated to receive proper support.
"Sexual assault has no place in the military. It is a violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for," Panetta said.
The rapist of the soldier mentioned at the beginning of this piece is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. While it does little to restore his victim's well-being, knowing he's behind bars reassures the rest of us that there's one less rapist roaming the free world. Hopefully the new regs will do just that, put more rapists away.
"The most important thing we can do is prosecute the offenders, deal with those that have broken the law and committed this crime," Panetta said.
Hallelujah! Somebody actually gets it... the victims aren't the problem, the perverts are.
Disclaimer: Though I am a soldier proudly serving in the U.S. Army, the opinions, gripes, expressions of joy and anguish, or any other meandering thought that end up on this blog are entirely of my own conjuring. They never in any way -- neither closely or even remotely -- reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.