Written By Laura Ostrow, CCASA Survivor Task Force member
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault.
I am terrified as I write this, but I will not allow myself to feel ashamed and feel like I have to hide anymore, and I want those out there who feel alone, to feel a little less alone:
One and a half years ago, I was sexually assaulted. And today, I found out that he will go free.
I am not writing this to make you feel sad for me. And I am not writing this for attention or to tell you all the whole story. I am writing this because my voice, and my power, were just taken away from me, again. And this is a way I can still use my voice, and try the impossible task of helping to give voice to the many.
In June of 2017, I moved to a beautiful island, a US army base, to teach preschool. I posted pictures of the lagoon, the rainbows, and of my new life. I had planned to be there for at least a year. I left that island two months after I got there. I told anyone who asked why I was home again that my contract was shortened. I told people that it just wasn’t so great out there, when in reality, it was everything I had dreamed of. I said anything but the truth.
One night, a man from the Air Force National Guard who was on the island for the weekend took advantage of my kindness, naivety, and trust that humans are generally good.
I was broken, to say the least. Life as I knew it, was no longer. I was now in the “after,” not the “before.” But I decided that I did not want him to be able to go around the world, in service of our country, and hurt more women like he hurt me. I did not want it to happen to someone else.
So I reported the crime. Because, if I could, I wanted to try and remove at least one person from the equation of sexual violence. I wanted to make a small effort in the fight, and help women be heard.
Today, I feel unheard. After I made my initial report, I was sent down a rabbit hole of investigations, testing, evidence collecting, photos, and phone calls with lawyers where I had to detail the events of that night over and over. I had to leave my island home because people started finding out, my boss outright shamed me for not being able to work, telling me that adults move on and that I should be able to be fine, and people started gossiping about me and my personal, private, life.
But…every step, was a step closer to justice. Every painful call, every time I was sent back to that night, I kept thinking, “Keep going, Laura. They want you to give up.” Because that is the way the system is set up. But I didn’t give up, even though it felt like the deck was stacked against me at every turn. Even though, in order for me to get anywhere in the process, I had to push for progress to be made, follow up all the time, call my lawyer that I fought to procure, and ask the questions no one would try to answer for me. I had to fight at every turn just to move the case forward. Even though it felt like I was the one on trial, I kept going.
And it worked. My case went forward. I was told it was a stronger case than some others, and I was told that the prosecutors were ready to go after him. I kept going. Until now.
Today, I have been told that the “convening authority” of the Air Force decided that my case would not move forward to Court Martial, the military’s version of a Grand Jury. And that is that.
Out of all the sexual assaults that occur, a very small percentage are reported. An even smaller, more minuscule percentage are brought to justice. People question women who come forward. They ask, “why didn’t you report this earlier?” or, “why didn’t you fight harder?”. And for women who do not report, they ask, “if it was so bad, why not go after him?”.
This. This is why. Because survivors are met with road blocks, bureaucracy, red tape, whatever you want to call it. Survivors are not believed. Survivors, are questioned. Survivors, are interrogated. While perpetrators go free.
We need to do better. The legal system, with special consideration to the military justice system, needs to do better. I write this to create awareness, that this is not just something that happens to unlucky people. This happens to most, if not all, the survivors that try to make a difference, and try to fight back against those who took away their light. No one gets justice. And, while they get to walk free, we suffer inside.
I never want to wish harm on someone, and I never want to be responsible for putting someone in jail. Through the past year and a half, I had so many doubts, so many moments telling myself that “it wasn’t bad enough” and that “he probably didn’t mean it” and that “I can’t be responsible for ruining someone’s life” and pretty much any other completely false, and invalidating self-talk I could muster. But he ruined the life I thought I had. And I don’t want him to do that to anyone else.
My life was forever altered. And now, he will never know. I was so utterly terrified, but I was ready to testify, to face him in court, and to tell a room full of strangers what he did to me. Not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. Because, what will happen the next time a woman trusts him enough to let him into her house. What will happen the next time?
This needs to change. The system we built to protect people is failing them. I followed the rules, the process, and I was still told no. A word that had no effect on the perpetrator the night of my assault. But this isn’t about me.
This is about all of the survivors out there, all of you, who have experienced something so shattering it breaks you to your core, to only be told to suck it up and move on. This is about all of you who made the gigantic effort of reporting what happened to you, to only be shut down. This is about all of you who wanted to report, but knew you would get no resolution and only go through so much pain, relive your trauma over and over, for nothing. This does not define us.
Please give this link^ a read, if you would like. Our voices are important, and this conversation needs to continue.