“Shh.”

Photo by Tyler Golden.

Photo by Tyler Golden.

“In the military, you don’t talk about this,” she said.

From 2010 to 2013 she was a proud Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. At one of the nation’s most distinguished service institutions, she stood as one of the finest students, handpicked by congressional representatives to lead sailors and marines after four years of education in Annapolis, Maryland. But underneath the uniforms and after the parades, the U.S. Naval Academy hides a dark side that is seldom seen by those outside this institution.

She graduated high school in 2009, attended a year of preparatory school and then went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 2015. While at the Naval Academy, she was sexually assaulted by an upperclassman who would trade sexual favors for homework help. She was also sexually harassed by a peer in her company who attempted to drag her out of her room and asked her to sleep with him and his then fiancée.

These two incidents were not the first times that she was sexually assaulted. During her time at the U.S. Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island, she was dating another midshipman candidate. On the night of November 14, 2009, he led her down a path to a beach where he began to kiss her. She asked him to stop, upsetting him. The two began to kiss again and he then pushed her onto the ground, got on top of her and unzipped her jacket. She was able to push him off, and she ran back to her barracks room at Ripley Hall. The next Monday she attempted to tell the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officer about the incident. The officer responded that her report could ruin the life of the candidate who assaulted her. She never spoke of the incident until she left the prepatory school in 2010. Naval Criminal Investigation Services attempted to investigate the incident, but dropped it after four years due to lack of evidence.

She initially did not believe what was happening to her, and partly believed she deserved it. She dealt with the matter rather poorly, losing focus at school and making bad decisions such as lying about her weight and height, which is a military offense. “I lied. I made a choice to lie over and over again and it was not the right decision. The only person I can hold accountable is myself,” she said.

She was discharged from the Naval Academy in May 2013. Upon her arrival home, she told her parents about the incidents and reported them to the NCIS, who claimed that both cases lacked evidence.

After a summer of growth and attempting to press charges against her attackers to no avail, she came to the College of Charleston in Fall 2013 as a Secondary Education and English major with a double minor in Theatre and Creative Writing. She admits that coming to Charleston has helped her the most. “I feel like I can be myself here [at the College]. Like I’m not as afraid as I was there,” she happily said.

Still weary of her past, she also admits that it has become difficult for her to trust people. After coming forward about the sexual assaults over the summer, some of her former friends and fellow Midshipmen turned their back on her, calling her a “traitor,” and a “nutcase.” One person apologized in the following statement through the Service Academy Forum: “Sorry what happened. Try to find peace with it and move on with a great life. You probably will have recurring thoughts and dreams about the USNA issue but just know when you do you can shrug it off, laugh, because you’re better than ‘it’.”

“I can’t change what happened to me. It was a violation of trust between comrades that were supposed to help me fight the enemy, but instead they were the enemy,” she said.

She concedes that coming to terms with what happened to her was the hardest part, along with starting over. “The sexual assaults that happened to me, they did happen. I should have seen it coming both times. But I was young and naive. But that doesn’t mean that I deserved it. No one deserves to be violated, no matter what”.

Now smiling and laughing more often with new found friends and excelling academically, she acknowledges that life in fact does get better. She has met with other survivors on campus and spoke at a candlelight vigil.

“Looking back on my experience, I am reminded of the words of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Man in the Arena”: ‘It is not the critic who counts . . . or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.’

She will graduate in May 2015.

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