#NotAlone [Jenna]

notalone

This is Not a Rape Story

The moment I first laid eyes upon my desert camo uniform I knew I had been called by God.

I had been praying about my career choice for years, and God led me to southern Virginia on scholarship to attend school and do Army ROTC. Although my freshman year brought on many challenges both emotionally and physically, I had never felt so certain.

That certainty faltered in April 2013—more than halfway through my sophomore year when I was raped by my direct superior in my ROTC program. At 9:14 am exactly one week after my assault, a girl I knew found out and reported it. I had mentioned the incident to my roommate and another friend, but never used the dreaded r-word. I was well aware of its career-ruining abilities, and I was drunk when it happened so I figured no one would believe me anyways. I was immediately isolated and alone. My assaulter gave off a near-perfect impression—a good student, in a fraternity, engaged, and a Christian. I was outgoing and outspoken—two things not appreciated in a male-dominated society. He immediately wore the label of victim while I wore many others—slut, liar, crazy—to name just a few.

Each day I went through the same routine—talking with police, counselors, ROTC commanders, and university officials. The school sent out a university-wide email of the sexual assault including the date, time, and dorm location. By the name of the dorm everyone knew it was in the ROTC barracks and from there, it only took the rest of my peers a few minutes of inquiry to find out it was me. The harassment of the other students in my program became so severe that I moved across campus to a ‘safe house’ where I roomed by myself. I slept when I could and lived off of potato chips and hot chocolate when I mustered up the energy to eat. Classes became less important, and usually interfered with my meetings, so I stopped going and had to withdrawal. I soon found out that my assaulter hid secrets of his own—he was charged with sexual harassment of another girl just a year before and found guilty, but since his father was a Congressmen was able to cover it quite nicely. I quickly realized that our system is flawed, but sadly that only glossed over the surface of how bad it really was.

The time between my assault on April 8th and my trial on May 8th was a very spiritually dry season for me. I didn’t feel anything, much less the presence of God. My parents lived seven hours away. They held demanding jobs, and with money tight could not afford to take the time off to come to my aid. I told them it was okay, and it was just that—okay. After two weeks of constant berating from my peers, and gossip updates from my friends, I thought it best to stop talking to people. My engineering-bound roommate needed to concentrate on her studies, and my ROTC best friend needed to focus on her family.   I think I went to church once in that five week period. I heard a sermon on peace and found myself quite entertained by God’s sick sense of humor. I continued on this path until the trials began in May.

The first trial was a university/ROTC hearing against my superior, while the second was one an ‘honor’ trial against a girl who was friends with him, and had lied both in person and in writing to help his case. The former was eight hours of accusations made toward me by my accuser, his lawyer, and nine other peers he brought to lie for him. His parents came for him, but mine couldn’t afford too. At 2:00am the trial ended and the official deliberation began. I left the building feeling defeated and still alone. It was too late to call anyone, so I went back to my room, sat on my bed, and sobbed. It was the first time I had cried throughout the entire process, and was in fact rather liberating. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was able to cry out (literally) to the God who I had thought had forsaken me. The sense of peace that rushed over me allowed me to get the best night’s sleep I had gotten in weeks. I was reminded that because Jesus walked such a long and lonely path, I didn’t have too.

The next day proved to be bittersweet. I took the stand at the honor trial only to get ripped apart by my peers. [Our honor system at the time was judged by one’s peers.]   It was equally discouraging to hear that the girl was found not guilty, and she would be able to graduate and commission into the Army without penalty. My accuser was not that lucky. By the grace of God, he had been found guilty and was removed from the ROTC program, unable to commission. The university also withheld his degree for a year. I had thought that the verdict was what I needed to regain my place in my program and at school, but boy, was I wrong.

***

I returned in the fall of 2013 rejuvenated by a relaxing summer filled with family, friends, and counseling. My relationship with Jesus had regained its rightful place on the throne of my heart, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little nervous. The first two weeks of school threw me back into the pit of despair that I had been stuck in the previous semester. I still got the looks, the whispers, and the name-calling. I was passed by for leadership positions though my grades and fitness scores well surpassed my peers, but it didn’t matter. No one thought I could do it, and I began to believe it too. I started having panic attacks and crying for hours on end until I finally went to a doctor who told me I suffered from PTSD. He prescribed me anti-anxiety medicine, and after weighing the risks with my counselor and my parents, decided to go on it. The months that followed were like night and day. As I regained my confidence in myself and the program, others gained confidence in me. I began dating a fellow cadet, and was finally enjoying ROTC again. My passion for the Army returned, and I began making the necessary preparations for my summer training.

But I had no idea what God had in store for me next.

In April 2014, I was told by my Army Instructor that the medical regulations for training had changed. For me, it meant getting off my medicine ASAP, or go to training the following summer and repeat my junior year. I went back to the doctor and begged him to write me a note saying I was okay. He was not thrilled because of the possible side effects experienced with a sudden withdrawal, but he advised me to trust my gut if I felt like my symptoms worsened. I got off the medicine, but was told by the ROTC department that my medical determination still needed to be cleared. I mentioned it to my family, but was optimistic since I was doing everything according to protocol.

Spring semester finals proved to be harder than expected. I began experiencing debilitating anxiety and more frequent panic attacks. My friends worried about me, but I assured them it was a passing phase. Summer approached with its own set of challenges including preparing for my Cadet training while being newly engaged. I tried my best to plan the wedding while letting my fiancé prepare for training, as he would leave three weeks before me. The anxiety and panic continued, but I was determined to make it through and come out strong. By the time my fiancé left for training, I still had no word on my medical clearance. That contributed to my already building anxiety, so I decided to go back to the doctor’s and to counseling.

Both professionals agreed that my PTSD was still very much alive within me, and that I would need to make a decision on whether or not to stay in my ROTC program. I called my adviser, who told me that since my determination had been taking almost three months, it was unlikely that I would be going to training this summer and that I had the option to repeat my junior year. At that point, it was as if God was shaking me by the shoulders saying,

Jenna! Don’t you get it? This is not where I want you.”

I could not believe the girl who began adulthood so wide-eyed and eager was the broken woman looking into her heartbroken parents’ eyes. I took out a loan to cover my senior year of college, and wrote my fiancé of the dreaded news. And by the way; this happened seven days ago, so the poor boy doesn’t even know yet. But we’ll figure it out.

This is not a rape story—not anymore. I chose to write about this now because after all the hardship I’ve endured, I no longer feel alone. Finally, by the grace of God I am able to tell my story as a woman who is now entering the other side of trauma. I thought the “other side” would be me making a difference as an Army Officer, but God has chosen me to instead become an Army Officer’s wife.

Now, as I lay my eyes upon my desert camo uniform for the last time, I still feel called by God. I am still praying about my future.  I know that God led me to my school in southern Virginia to meet my fiancé, and to be refined by Christ’s love and mercy.

Like the three men in the book of Daniel who were to be burned in the fiery furnace, I too have emerged from the flames with Christ by my side; tarnished, but undestroyed.

Take heart, my beloveds,

Jenna

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