Sexual Assault in the Military Hits Home In Sarasota, FL
Names have been changed to protect individual privacy. Relying on courage and resilience; Janice found her voice and is motivated to inspire change.
Janice received her first introduction to the military as a 17-year-old High School student. She remembers listening to a compelling presentation given by a military recruiter in which travel, financial opportunities, and career incentives were emphasized. No mention was made about the multitude of risks women in the military face. The recruiter that young Janice listened to was good at his job, tasked with finding as many young eligible recruits as possible. Janice was captivated at the prospect of the opportunities she envisioned the military may offer. Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, public schools nationwide provide military recruiters the same access at High School student fairs as colleges and potential employers enjoy. High schools are a target audience for military recruiters determined to find students; many of whom may not be college-bound due to financial constraints.
Janice eagerly attended ROTC type meetings for a year and enlisted at 18. “It felt like the best decision of my life, even boot camp, which was tough, but I loved it, it was exciting. I had a great future with opportunities to look forward to,” she says. She was assigned to the Marine Corps. When she arrived at her assignment, she discovered that she was only one of three women, while there were fifty men. She quickly realized her position in the social hierarchy in regards to race and gender.
Janice was raped in the military at 18. It was a violation that broke her down, and she says she still cannot adequately describe how she felt at the time. Her sense of loss overwhelmed her whole body and made her feel dirty. She sought out appropriate medical care, which included a rape kit. Janice carried on with her duties while being overwhelmed with flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, intense anxiety, and debilitating shame. She felt like she had lost her high energy carefree self. Janice confided in her chief and was met with cold indifference; her allegations were dismissed as inconsequential.
One morning she was told to appear at ‘Captain’s Mast.’ In a room filled with high ranking men, she was required to recount her harrowing sexual assault in full detail. After that meeting, it was decided that she be placed on restriction, she was later discharged. “It’s so humiliating when everyone in the command knows what’s happened and they are all blaming you,” Janice says tearfully. It is curious what the outcome may have been if Janice had been permitted to share her story with a neutral prosecutor.
Today Janice is the proud mother of an 11-year-old son whom she loves dearly. Janice and her son have struggled with housing insecurity for years and were homeless for some time. Most recently, they were both sleeping on a friend’s mother’s couch. Streets of Paradise’s Outreach Team in Sarasota, Florida were honored to deliver furniture to Janice, a brave veteran, and create a comfortable home filled with beds, linens, kitchen table with chairs, a couch, dishes, pots, pans, a shower curtain and even cleaning supplies. Janice is grateful to Streets of Paradise for making four walls a dignified space that she feels proud to call her home. “Power was abused by people in authority, but now I have my son, and a home and I know I can keep going,” says Janice.
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“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” ~ Maya Angelou
Photo credit: Donations by Devon Oppenheimer. Bed assembly by Cathy Bryant.