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Why I became a victim advocate for fellow Airmen

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. (AFNS) -- (Editor's note: Though the author chose to remain anonymous, this is the real story of one Airman's experience with sexual assault. Be mindful that no two sexual assault stories are the same. If you, or anyone you know, has been or is currently a victim of any sexual crime, contact the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator or a victim's advocate.)

When I was in college I had an incident happen to me that I wouldn't ever wish to happen to anyone, not even my worst enemy. In one night my whole perspective on my life and my world was changed.

I had just turned 21, and it was the first semester of my junior year in college. Another weekend had rolled around, and I was going to hang out with the girls. A friend of mine, "Amy," decided instead of going out we could just have a small house party at her apartment. Amy picked me up so I could drink and not have to think about driving my own car.

About seven or eight guys came over, brought drinks and everything seemed fine. We were all having a good time, playing drinking games, listening to music and dancing. There was one particular guy, who I noticed had taken a real liking to me. At times he had gotten a little too close, but it was a party; we were just having fun.

When the end of the night rolled around, Amy had gotten ridiculously drunk and started yelling and screaming for everyone to leave. She had forgotten the other girls and I were staying with her. She wanted us to leave, but ... we had no car.

The same guy that had been paying me a little too much attention all night spoke up and said he could take us home no problem. We didn't live too far from each other. My friend, "Kara" and I decided we would both ride with him to "be safe." While walking to the car, I started to complain about having a headache. After we got in the car, we dropped Kara off first. That's when I should have noticed something was wrong, because in order to get to her place, we had to pass mine. Instead, I thought to myself, "Whatever, this headache is killing me."

After dropping Kara off, the guy asked me if I wanted to stop by the 24-hour gas station and grab some Tylenol. "Sure. I don't care; just get me home," I said. I stayed in the car while he got out for the Tylenol. I felt the alcohol kicking in a little more, but I was still aware of my surroundings. He got back in the car and handed me a pill. I took it without question.

That's where everything stopped.

To this day, I don't know what kind of pill I really took. All I know is when I got to my place and collapsed in bed, all I remember saying was "No." Even now, writing this, I still have some very explicit flashbacks, and the one clear thing is I remember saying "No!"

A couple hours later I woke up in my bed naked, cold, my arms covered in bruises with blankets and pillows on the floor. I was a mess. I got in the shower, crouched down in the corner and just let the water hit my body. What happened? Why were my arms covered in bruises? When did I get home? And then it hit me ... I had been raped. It was all so blurry, but the bruises on my arms didn't lie. I stayed in the shower for what seemed like hours. I was different now. I was broken. I threw the sheets off the bed and into the trash; I lay on the bare mattress and cried myself to sleep.

I didn't remember the name of the guy who took me home that night. He could have walked right past me, and I would have never known it was him. I tried to reach out to a couple friends the next week. I reached out to Amy because she had been the one who invited the guys over.
I remember her saying, "You know you weren't raped; why are you are lying?" I was called a "hoe" and a "slut;" I was told I wanted it. I eventually reached out to a friend I hadn't spoken to in a while, and she urged me to see a doctor even though it had been a couple days since my rape happened.

I had never been taught about rape; I didn't know what to do, who to turn to, who to talk to. I was lost. I tried to forget it all, chalking it up as a life experience, and I made myself forget ... or so I thought.

After graduating college, I joined the Air Force. I was at my first duty station and in my brand new apartment - alone again. I started having nightmares, and there were nights I could still see the bruises on my arms. I needed help, but I didn't know how or who to ask.

I got to work one day and saw an email seeking victim advocates to work with the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response program.
Great! This was my chance to get help without really having to tell anyone what happened to me, and maybe, I would have the chance to help someone else too.

I had never dealt with the situation, and I only blamed myself. I had kept things so far back in my mind that I almost had a nervous breakdown. I had random crying spells at work before anyone came in, and when I got home, all I could do was cry and cry some more. No one around me was aware; that's how well I had taught myself to play the part of the "happy girl."

Once I became a part of the SAPR program and finally told someone what had happened to me, I was finally able to begin to heal; I am no longer broken. I am able to work with other survivors of sexual assault and help them begin to heal, and it feels good. I hope that sharing my story reaches at least one person out there who may have thought they were alone.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, there are many programs available to help you. It doesn't matter when it happened: the SARC, victim advocates and chaplains, are all here to help you heal and overcome.

There are many things I could have done differently that night. Sometimes I sit and I play the situation over and over in my head. I have finally come to the conclusion that if someone wants to do you harm, they will find a way no matter what you do. It wasn't my fault, I was a victim, but now I have become a survivor.

For more resources and infomration, visit http://www.sexualassaultpreventionresponse.af.mil/