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Commentary

No longer silent, sexual abuse victim empowered

Published: 01:19PM April 10th, 2014

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — As a young child the horrors of sexual violence arrested my sense of safety, security and the sanctity of my home — robbing me of self-worth, my voice and the development of healthy boundaries.

At the age of 4 I became a guilt-riddled, withdrawn and a painfully shy child. I was frightened of the world outside of my mother and was petrified by almost all men.

From that time until the age of 19, my self-esteem and self-worth told me I was damaged, unlovable and had nothing of value to say, so I kept my mouth shut most of the time.

Spiritual growth, counseling and a strong network of family and friends helped me flourish. I found my voice, my worth and developed a strong focus of internal control. I was able to achieve my academic and professional aspirations.

I was finally more than that helpless little girl. My faith in humanity had been restored — and then it happened. He came into my life and threatened to undo the lifetime of healing and restoration that seemed as if it only just begun.

No, he was not a stranger. He was my tormentor, my boogeyman: a field grade officer who happened to be my boss.

Most cases of sexual harassment and assault happen subtly. There is a journey, a refined process that offenders and perpetrators take potential targets through. My situation was not any different. It began with intrusion.

My offender initiated this process with sexual remarks, inappropriate comments and at one point grabbed my arm and instructed to me to serve him dinner at a command Christmas party. I managed to squeak something barely audible as I looked around to see if anyone noticed and would come to my aid. In retrospect, I believe we were all flabbergasted and did not know what to do.

I was embarrassed and frustrated that I did not stand up for myself. At that moment, I was 4 years old again and could not find my voice.

As time went by, my supervisor’s behavior towards me became more blatant and frequent. I began to dismiss what was happening. I would tell myself he doesn’t mean anything by it. I became convinced if I ignored the behavior, he would get the picture that I was not interested and his advances were unwanted.

I eventually came to accept he was not going to stop. We were at the second phase in the process: desensitization.

So now we are four months into incessant and unwanted sexual advances. I was summoned several times to his office under the guise of a work-related task, only to have himself and his male counterparts look me over, ask personal questions and make sexual comments as I exited the room.

No longer was I a highly educated professional or valued member of the team. I was there solely for my offender’s benefit. I felt less than human, weak and powerless. I was no longer a 34-year-old capable and confident woman. I had transformed completely into that helpless girl from my childhood.

The final breaking point came when my offender began to actively take steps to eliminate my job. Upon my return from my TDY, I found out he had withheld paperwork to extend my job. I informed him I intended to file a report with the EO office.

The investigation began that day. Asserting the protections that are guaranteed to every military and civilian personnel is not an easy process. During the investigative process, I felt as though I was laid bare and the entire world could see my fear, my shame, my cowardice and my trauma. However, my claims were substantiated. He was punished.

As I mentioned earlier, there are three phases in the process of sexual harassment and assault. I spoke of intrusion and desensitization: the last phase is isolation. Isolation is the goal of every perpetrator in order to accomplish a full-fledge sexual assault. I am eternally grateful my ordeal never led to isolation.

I am empowered because of knowledge. I am empowered because I am no longer silent. I am no longer a victim.