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Survivor recounts experience, says victims need to report assaults

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- An Air Force veteran, who is now a civilian at Tinker, recounts her experience with sexual assault while on active duty, how it has impacted her life and offers advice to current-era survivors.

The employee (who wishes to remain anonymous) said she was nearly raped when she was a young Airman and likens the symptoms she's experienced to post traumatic stress disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.

"When a woman is raped, the effects can be the same as PTSD. They have compounded PTSD," she said. "They're not only traumatized for having served over in Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, but to also be in a combative situation and then have (the attacker) serving right alongside them makes it worse."

She recounted the traumatic experience, explaining that one night, when she was 19 years old, she had been watching a movie with a male acquaintance in a co-ed dorm. She decided to leave, said "goodbye" and when she got up to go, he pushed her down.
"I was shocked. I thought, 'What the heck is he doing?' I didn't see him like that and I wasn't dating him or anything," she said.

Before it went any further, she said another Airman, a stranger to her, intervened. Freed from being pinned beneath the assailant, she ran. Through the cold northern Michigan night, she darted back to her dorm.

"There was literally like 6 to 7 feet of snow, but I didn't care," she said. "I just hauled."
The survivor said she told some of her friends, who then confronted the guy, making sure he never approached her again.

"I didn't tell any supervisors. I never thought to do that because they didn't talk much about sexual harassment and they didn't teach about it like they do now," she said. "During this time, people still smoked at their desk. There were no real boundaries; people did what they wanted, based on how they felt.

"I didn't realize how just that incident could change how I felt. I wasn't a recluse, but I put up walls," she said. "It caused me to be very cautious, even now, if a guy looks at me too long; then I'm watching him to see his intentions."

She left the Air Force in 1996, seven years after the incident. In 2010, before coming to Tinker, she worked with disabled veterans and found she still suffered from the attempted rape.

While at work one day, the veteran said one of her co-workers put his hand on her shoulder and she jumped. He noticed her reaction. He later asked if something had what happened to her? She told him about her assault.

"A lot of women don't tell; they suffer in silence. But, it's not silent, because a lot of people can see something is wrong," she said. "If it hadn't affected me, he should have never have been able to pick up on it."

The veteran went to counseling and said looking back, if she had it to do over she'd report the incident.

That's one of the messages Air Force leaderships hope everyone gets during this focused period of special Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training.

Air Force leaders have made it clear that preventing sexual assault is every Airman's responsibility. But, in the event that a sexual harassment or assault does occur, it is important that those victimized feel secure in coming forward to report the incidents.