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A sexual assault survivor's view: The end

Lt. Col. Melissa Krambeck, AFTAC (U.S. Air Force photo/Cory Long)

Lt. Col. Melissa Krambeck, AFTAC (U.S. Air Force photo/Cory Long)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Editor's note: This is the final of an eight-part series about sexual assault awareness.

I have looked into my rapist's eyes. I had tried to imagine what it would be like to actually see my rapist again. I knew I would have to see him at the Article 32 hearing. I would have to see him and identify him as the man who raped me.

While trying to imagine that moment, seeing him during the daytime in a courtroom, my imagination would be flooded with memories. I would relive the sexual assault again and I would be reminded of the weight of his body, the way he smelled, and the pain I felt. When I looked into his eyes for real, I calmly identified him as my rapist and looked back at the prosecutor asking the questions. It wasn't traumatic. I sat up a little taller in my seat. I saw him, and he didn't intimidate me at all...I had taken my power back.

He and I know what happened that night 20 years ago--or maybe he doesn't remember my particular rape because I am just one of many he raped. At the Article 32 hearing, the prosecutor did a professional job presenting all the evidence.

Then, the investigating officer asked for clarification questions and finally the area defense council, representing my rapist asked questions. After all the fact-finding concluded, the Article 32 hearing ended and the investigating officer would use the evidence and testimony to submit a recommendation to the Article 32 convening authority.

The investigating officer carefully considered every piece of evidence and took it upon himself not to close the case until he was certain every witness in the case had been questioned. Ultimately, his job was to review the case and make a recommendation based on the amount of evidence available. He could recommend proceeding to a court-martial or not, depending on whether there was enough evidence to go forward. In this case, he recommended not proceeding to a court-martial, as there wasn't enough evidence.

I cried when I received the news. I asked for a copy of the investigating officer's report, and I read all 300-plus pages. The investigating officer was thorough. As I read, I realized 20 years fades memories (especially for those experiencing no significant events during this time) and there was no physical evidence. Note: if there was physical evidence from a sexual assault forensic examination, or SAFE, it would have been destroyed after five years per procedures. Sadly, after my "sort-of" unbiased review of the evidence presented in the investigating officer's report I had to agree there wasn't enough evidence to go to a court-martial. Wow, what a kick in the stomach. I know this person is a criminal, yet there is not enough proof.

I also had the opportunity to make a recommendation to the Article 32 convening authority. I agreed there wasn't enough evidence to go forward to a court-martial. However, I did not want my case and evidence to be lost. I want my case to be used as evidence against my rapist if and when he is ever named again. Rape isn't an accident. It's a crime and criminals are often repeat offenders.

I'm sorry I didn't tell 20 years ago, but times were different then. It wasn't until very recently that I could finally let go of my coping method of avoidance and felt safe enough to seek help and closure for my sexual assault.

What you can do:
1. If you see a process which is not working, submit suggestions for improvements or make improvements yourself. The power of suggestion can help any program improve and continue to improve. One person speaking up can make a difference.

2. Know that the Air Force zero tolerance stance regarding sexual assaults does not preclude reporting a past assault.

3. Your response to every sexual assault survivor should be: "I'm sorry;" "It's not your fault;" and "What can I do to help?" This response to a survivor's report of a sexual assault was taught to our 45th Space Wing members by Jeff Bucholtz, director of: We End Violence, and I agree.

4. Please don't label sexual assault survivors as victims. We are survivors.

5. Be aware that sexual assault awareness training may be a trigger to remind sexual assault survivors of the traumatic event.

6. Be aware that sexual assault survivors may be fearful of losing control over themselves and how they are perceived by others; allow them to decide how they move forward.

7. Be aware that coping methods used in the past by sexual assault survivors may not continue to work, especially if their coping method was avoidance.

8. Supervisors, please allow your Airmen the time they need to seek treatment. Recovering from a sexual assault isn't as obvious as recovering from a broken leg, but both need to be tended to by a professional to ensure proper healing.

9. If you are the supervisor of a sexual assault survivor and need relief from stress, Military One Source and the Military Family Life Consultants are available for you, although they currently are not available for sexual assault survivors.

What sexual assault survivors can do:
1) If you are a sexual assault survivor, please don't wait until your life is so stressed that the only thing you can control is learning new coping methods to recover from your sexual assault.

2) Don't give up. Find a way to get the resources you need to recover.

3) Know there are resources available specifically for sexual assault survivors. Call your local SARC office at (321) 494-7272, contact the SAFE helpline at (877) 995-5247, or visit www.SafeHelpline.org for information.

4) If you are a survivor, don't let fear stand in your way of receiving the help and resources you need--there is someone out there who cares and will help.

5) If you've experienced a sexual assault, even though it was years ago and whether or not you were on active duty at the time, you can report that crime. You will be believed--you can maintain your privacy, and you will be offered a wide range of services to help you recover including a Victim Advocate and the services of an attorney called a Special Victim Counsel. If you make an unrestricted report, you can request an Expedited Transfer to another unit or base if needed.

6) If you are a survivor but are hesitant to report, consider filing a restricted report. A restricted report offers confidentiality and a few invaluable services. First, when submitting the report you receive documentation of your disclosure. This is important to ensure access to needed medical care now and in the future. I recently attended a panel discussion of ex-military members suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Their PTSD symptoms were service related, but they did not divulge they suffered a traumatic event during their time of service and therefore, they could not receive veterans'/medical benefits for this ailment--one of the panel members was homeless because she could not function in society. You always have the option to later convert to an unrestricted report if you choose to go forward with your case.

7) I recommend requesting a Victim's Advocate. They are all trained volunteers--not "voluntolds." My advocate takes my privacy seriously and provides me a safe place to talk about my health, the status of my case and resources available to me and my family. Additionally, the Victim's Advocate can work to eliminate any negative impacts to a career.

About the Author: This is an event in my life I want to share with you so you can gain insight from my experience as part of the "Story Teller's Campaign." As part of the "Every Airman has a Story Campaign," I am a confident young lady--I like to ensure I leave every program I touch better than I found it. I am and have been many things: a mother, sister, wife, daughter, snowboarder, adventure racer, motorcycle rider, leader, program manager, avionics technician, engineer, physicist, Air Liaison Officer, United Nations Military Observer and U.S. delegate to NATO. My philosophy is "bloom where planted and never ignore something you can fix or influence fixing." I teach and empower my team members to be better than me. Finally, I can make a difference and so can you.