HomeMediaArticle Display

Feature: Through my eyes: surviving sexual assault

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Editor's Note: This story is a personal, victim-submitted account of a actual sexual assault and its aftermath. The names and identities of the individuals involved have been omitted or altered to maintain confidentiality.

"That night, my whole world turned upside down," said Airman Samantha Smith, a sexual assault survivor in the U.S. Air Force.

On the night Smith was remembering, she became a victim of sexual assault, and took her first of many steps down the road of recovery.

That night Smith attended a party with people whom she believed to be her close, trusted friends. Her attacker knew her boyfriend and accompanied her to the party that night. Smith dismissed warnings from other close friends about her would-be attacker and his motives for spending time with her.

"I should have noticed the signs, but I was naïve," Smith said.

At the party Smith drank alcohol despite the fact she was underage. She became drunk, and chose to leave with the male "friend" whom she assumed she could trust.
After the party he drove her back to his apartment where she wound up spending the night.

"When I awoke, he was having intercourse with me. I knew what was happening. But I was trapped in my own body, paralyzed by fear. No one can understand that feeling unless they've been there. I couldn't fight back, I couldn't scream, I couldn't move. Soon after, I blacked out."

Smith woke up the next morning at 9 a.m. and the man had already left.

"I wish I could forget, but I can't," Smith said.

She first confided in her mother, then in her close friend as she felt those were the only two she could trust.

"My friend made me call the sexual assault response coordinator line. I was so afraid I would get in trouble for underage drinking. I used to think the SARC would record what you say and tell your commander, first sergeant and supervisors. I was wrong, way wrong!"

"They explained to me the difference between restricted and unrestricted reports. I ended up doing a restricted report at first, but later decided to do an unrestricted report."

A restricted report must be kept confidential and cannot be investigated or prosecuted. An unrestricted report allows command notification and engagement as well as the option of investigation.

"After this, I signed a paper and went to Columbia (for) a sexual assault nurse examiner's (investigation)," Smith explained.

This type of forensic medical exam may be performed at hospitals and certain healthcare facilities by a sexual assault nurse examiner, sexual assault forensic examiner, or another medical professional.

The investigation is complex and takes three to four hours on average. These medical and forensic exams are comprehensive and attend to the victim's medical needs and any other special attention the victim may require.

In addition, it is important for the examiner to collect forensic evidence. This is done to ensure that if the victim chooses to report the crime to the authorities they will have access to the stored evidence.

To start, the examiner will write down in detail the victim's medical history, documenting any current medications and pre-existing conditions prior to the assault. Next, there is a detailed head-to-toe examination of the body including an internal exam.

This may include the collection of blood, urine, hair and other body secretion samples as well as the collection of relevant clothing and undergarments. Photo documentation of injuries such as bruises, cuts and scraped skin are also required.

Lastly, the examiner will consult the victim on treatment options for possible sexually transmitted infections they may have been exposed to during the assault.

Depending on the hospital and state, the victim may also receive prophylaxis treatments, or a referral for follow-up counseling.

Prophylaxis treatments are measures taken to maintain health, and prevent the spread of disease or infections. Antibiotic prophylaxis is a common treatment in rape cases in which antibiotics are used to prevent infections. This may also be required in a SANE exam.

"The SANE exam is the most degrading medical exam ever," Smith explained. "I cried the whole time, but it had to be done."

"I went to work without telling anyone what happened. I was watching my back and not talking to anyone. If I did talk, I would sound irate or cry for no reason. I wouldn't go anywhere by myself, because I was scared. Everything was triggering my fear and anger."

"I kept blaming myself for what happened. It's my fault; my clothes were too skimpy; I drank too much; why couldn't I fight back?"

"That same week I started counseling off base. I always thought counseling was for crazy people. I thought I could suck it up and handle it on my own, I was wrong. But my counselor really helped get me through."

Because Smith filed an unrestricted report, she was required to speak with the Office of Special Investigations which investigates major crimes in the Air Force.

OSI instructed Smith to write down all the details she could remember about her assault. After this they questioned her multiple times about the events that took place during and prior to the assault. The initial process took more than five hours and Smith paid three more visits to OSI in the following weeks.

Air Force legal officials decided to file a complaint under Article 120 Rape and Carnal Knowledge. Shortly after pressing charges Smith received her SANE exam results back, which confirmed her fears.

"I had about three pages of evidence that this assault actually occurred," Smith said. "Most people would find three pages of evidence a victory on their part, I didn't. I felt dirty and disgusting."

"The legal process was long and grueling. I felt like a lab rat, with no privacy or rights. Throughout this process, I found out that I was not the first girl he had raped. It made me so mad!"

"He assaulted (another) about a year prior to me, and got away with it. Knowing this gave me a little more motivation to bring him to court."

The hearing was scheduled in August, and Smith was given the option not to testify. However, if she refused to testify she was informed that her case had a high probability of being thrown out.

During a hearing under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the commander will be present and will hear the facts of the case. Upon hearing the accounts of both the plaintiff and the accused, the commander decides how the case will be prosecuted.

"That day was so nerve-wrecking for me. I had to tell my story again in front of more than 10 people, including my attacker. I could feel his eyes burning through me as I talked about what happened."

One week following the initial hearing, Smith received news that they had enough evidence to forward the case to court-martial.

"I didn't want to testify again. When you're on the stand, they rip your story to pieces. They try to make you seem like the worst Airman there is, like the scum of the earth. I debated whether or not I'd testify up to the last minute!"

"But, a week before the court martial was to take place, the Area Defense Counsel representing my attacker met with me and explained they were opting to submit a package for a bad conduct discharge."

"I agreed with it. As long as I didn't have to see him anymore, I was happy. The ADC then sent the request up the chain of command where it was later approved."

"The day I was told he was being discharged, I cried tears of joy. I had a weight lifted off my shoulders. Justice had been served."

"I received a letter of reprimand for underage drinking, which was deserved on my part. I was blessed not to have received anything worse."

"The LOR gave me more motivation to do better for me, and the Air Force."

"To this day I still have flashbacks, night terrors and memories. It doesn't get any easier. I'm still judged by this. Sadly, I'm known as the girl who cried rape."

"I'm not the rape victim you see on 'Law and Order'. I'm an average Airman who's been through hell and back. So before you judge someone because of how they act, dress,
ect. Think about what they might have been through."

"But more importantly, if you're a victim of rape, please come forward to the SARC. The sooner the better."

According to statistics provided by the Department of Defense about 73 percent of rapes are perpetrated by an individual the victim knows. Also, more than 50 percent of all rape and sexual assault incidents were reported to have occurred within one mile of the victim's home, or at the residence of a family member or friend.

As recorded by the DOD 17.7 million American women have been victims of an attempted or completed rape. Of all attempted and completed rapes about 54 percent are not reported to the police, based on the statistical average over the past five years.

From research provided by the DOD there are many effects that can manifest in a victims life after an assault has occurred. Complications can range from, but are not limited to, substance abuse, sleeping and eating disorders, self-harm, flashbacks, suicide or post-traumatic stress disorder to name a few.

Out of every 100 rapes, 46 are reported to the authorities, 12 lead to an arrest, nine are prosecuted, five lead to a felony conviction, three may spend only one day in jail while the other 97 walk free, as recorded by the DOD.

If you would like more information on sexual assault and sexual assault awareness, please visit Rainn.org. This is a Department of Defense-sponsored website dedicated to the education, prevention and awareness of sexually based assaults and offenses.

Original content found here.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.

Department of the Air Force does not exercise any responsibility or oversight of the content at external link destination.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of linked web sites or the information, products, or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations. All links are provided consistent with the mission of this web site.