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A sexual assault survivor's view: Unrestricted; not easy, but worth it to me

Lt. Col. Melissa Krambeck,
Air Force Technical Applications Center

Lt. Col. Melissa Krambeck, Air Force Technical Applications Center

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

In part six of my series, I said, "one person speaking up can make a difference."

Under the restricted reporting option, I was not able to speak up as disclosing I had been assaulted would mean losing the confidentiality of the restricted report. So to be that one person, I needed to file an unrestricted report allowing me to speak freely about the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and my experiences while using the services.

I thought carefully about filing an unrestricted report because I knew it initiated an investigation and my chain of command would be notified. I felt certain that if I filed an unrestricted report, everyone in my chain of command would immediately know of my assault and I would experience severe impacts to my career. I was wrong. My career was not severely impacted; instead, my chain of command challenged me with implementing the New Air Force Inspection System throughout the wing, and encouraged me to work to improve the SAPR program.

The Inspector General Staff job offered a flexible mission in which I thrived. It allowed me time to participate in my medical and mental health treatment and the unrestricted reporting process.

Upon filing an unrestricted report, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator then filed the required operational report which set the notification and investigation processes in action.

Over the past year, I made many suggestions to the SAPR process. My voice was heard, and some of my suggestions were implemented--since I started using it, the program improved immeasurably. Locally, our wing leadership hired a full-time Sexual Assault Victim Advocate to augment the SARC and ensured professional services and confidential recordkeeping is the standard.

The Air Force implemented the Special Victims Council (provides legal advice/representation for a survivor, which I used to understand the unrestricted reporting process. The unrestricted reporting process included an office of investigations investigation, charges being filed against the person I accused of assaulting me and an Article 32 hearing to see if there is enough evidence to go forward to a court-martial. Additionally, there is now an expedited transfer process to move a victim and survivor to a new unit or base.

I must admit...in retrospect, filing the unrestricted report was the best thing I could have done for my health, and the benefits rippled throughout my family and career. Filing the unrestricted report, telling my "secret" and realizing I wouldn't be discharged from the Air Force for being a sexual assault survivor was a huge relief. I was finally free of secrets and as it turned out, this helped quell my nightmares. Also, contributing to the improvement of the Sexual Assault & Prevention Response program empowered me and helped in my recovery.

As I reflect back, without reporting, the continuous nightmares and lack of sleep might have affected my leadership skills, job performance and possibly my career. So contrary to what I originally thought, I could be much worse off if I continued to ignore my symptoms rather than work through the issues.

I don't want to leave a false impression--I still occasionally have nightmares due to triggers in the environment. Working with OSI was a trigger, but I worked through it. OSI investigated the timeline (collected memories to complete the timeline of who knew and when they found out) from the moment the sexual assault crime was committed until present day. My family and I were impressed with the professionalism of the OSI agents. To my surprise, the interviews weren't about my integrity. I assumed OSI would blame me before hearing the details of the assault, but my assumptions were wrong.

Additionally, I am now preparing to attend an Article 32 hearing where I will see the man who raped me 20 years ago. This is a huge trigger. I counter this trigger ever so slightly by using the safe network I've built--my family, my victim advocate, my special victim's council and the team I work with who will carry my workload while I'm away.

Not having to keep secrets is liberating.

What you can do:
1. If you see a process which is not working, fix it or influence fixing it. You can make a difference.
2. If you are a survivor, consider filing a restricted report. (Note: It takes a lot of courage to file an unrestricted report...It took me 20 years.) Not all survivors are ready to make the personal choice to take part in an investigation which is part of an unrestricted 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 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' and medical benefits for this ailment. One of the panel members was homeless because she could not function in society.

3. I recommend requesting a victim's advocate. They are volunteers. 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 and 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.