Using my voice to find my strength

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christina M. Styer
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
I felt like everyone knew how stupid I was; and because I made bad choices - he got away with it.

I really did make bad choices. I put myself in a position to get sexually assaulted, just two months after turning 21 years old.

My story is not so different from the many stories shared by survivors of sexual assault. I met a guy at a dorm party. He was new to our unit, and we all spent the night getting drunk and hanging out. For some reason, I agreed to let this guy I didn't know into my room without anyone else.

My intentions were innocent. I had no interest in him as anything more than a friend. I thought he felt the same, since he treated me like a kid sister the whole night, not someone he was thinking about sexually.

One minute we were talking and joking around and the next I was waking up to him doing things to me that I had not agreed to.

I was scared, confused, angry and very drunk.

I knew I had to get him off of me, but I didn't know how. I tried pushing him, but he was heavier than me and being drunk left me less coordinated than usual.

I didn't know what to do. But I did know I did not want to have sex with him. So I screamed for him to get off of me.

I got lucky because he did. But not before he violated me.

I did nothing that night, but the next morning I went to my friends and told them what happened. They helped me call security forces and report the incident.

These were the days before the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, so reporting was not easy and the results were often uncomfortable and full of judgment from everyone I encountered during the process.

My attacker told everyone I flirted with him in my room and I led him on before changing my mind claiming sexual assault.

But how could I have led him on? - I was unconscious.

The security forces members treated me like it was my fault for putting myself in such a terrible situation. My first sergeant and commander issued a no-contact order, but would not allow me to move to another dorm. My supervisor treated all of my appointments like an inconvenience.

In all honesty, I couldn't really blame any of them for their reaction. I knew I had been really stupid, and I didn't have the greatest record at the time so I could see how they would all treat me like I had done something wrong and should "just shut up and color."

My friends and boyfriend were great but they didn't know what to do any more than I did. I had no one to help me. I felt sad, ashamed, embarrassed, violated and mostly, alone. I felt like the Air Force didn't take care of me because I didn't deserve to be taken care of.

Who could be naive enough to invite a stranger into their room and not assume something bad was going to happen?


This innocent but careless decision turned out to be the worst possible choice I could have ever made. But I made it, and now I had to live with it.

I decided to consider myself lucky I had not been raped and not allow myself to be called anything other than a survivor.

It was hard to move past feeling like I couldn't trust my chain of command. It was even harder to see my attacker every day in the squadron halls and the dorm.

I did what a lot of people do when bad things happen: I decided to forget about it. I tried to "get over it and move on," as I had been told a million times.

It would have been really great if it were that simple. But it never is.

I had nightmares, panic attacks and I was an extremely unhappy person for many years. I never felt good or worthy enough and I destroyed most of my relationships, including my first marriage.

Then, in 2008, I volunteered to become a sexual assault victim advocate. My motivation for being a VA was to help other people who had a terrible thing like this happen to them. I never imagined that sitting through 40 hours of training would change how I viewed my entire experience.

As it turned out, my immature and reckless decision did not make me to blame for what happened. He was to blame - no matter what. The hurtful way I was treated by those I trusted to take care of me, and to empathize with me, led me to view myself as "less than a person" for many years.

But that just wasn't true.

Finding this realization helped me find my happiness, my power and my voice. I didn't deserve what happened to me, even if my drunken choices were not the smartest. I deserved to be taken care of, to have someone treat me like I mattered, to say how I felt mattered and protect me from the man who took my sense of security away.

That didn't happen for me until years later when I finally sought counseling through my church, a thought that never crossed my mind until my VA training.

Even six years after the fact, the SAPR program saved me from my sexual assault.
In learning how to help others, I learned to help myself. I am strong again; strong enough to know that I am not powerless and I have a voice.

I truly believe the SAPR program and the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator are here to help. I urge anyone who has faced sexual assault or rape to contact your local SARC as soon as possible. The help you need is there - it is free and you will be treated with dignity, compassion and care.