Look Into Her Eyes
Look deep. Look past the blur of this 1977 photo and focus on the sparkle in the eyes of this young Airman- so full of hope, trust and enthusiasm. She is excited by the possibilities that lie before her in the military. This woman is confident in herself and convinced she can trust others. I know this all to be true because this is a photo of me when I was nineteen. This photo was taken just a few months before I was stalked by a stranger and attacked under some haunting trees in a local park. My screams and defensive struggles stopped the attacker from finishing his assault, but he escaped without being identified. Strengthened by his obscurity, the stranger sneaks into my barracks a few days later and subjected me to a physically torturous and emotionally traumatizing rape. While bound, gagged and tied to my bed for hours; this rape and beating landed me in the hospital for four days. The deep wounds on my body are superficial when compared to the jagged hacks cut into my emotional state of mind. The physical wounds heal quickly but the emotional scars take on other forms that manifest a life of their own. With the very first touch, a rapist reaches into your core and attempts to smother your spirit and tear apart your confidence.
Prior to being released from the hospital I was attacked yet again, by the military system, and this time the attacker tore at my trust and faith in people who were supposed brothers and sisters in arms. Through a rigorous interrogation, I was pressured to sign documentation that claimed I made up the story of the attack and the rape. I refused! Consequently, a few days after my release from the hospital I was honorably discharged from the Air Force. First I was attacked, then raped by this stranger, and finally I got screwed by the good-old boy testosterone driven mentality of our military. I was abandoned by my comrades and sacrificed for their need to create a delusional image of safety on their instillation.
This experience left me damaged, disillusioned, and severely depressed. Upon discharge, I immediately reached out to the Veterans Administration for support and care. Without so much as an exam, I was denied any assistance. Despite the incredible love and support of my family, I was encouraged to let the horrible event die and "move on in life." The predominant way of thinking in the late 70's was to not "ruffle" feathers. It was common practice for families to keep our dirty laundry private. I was never told "not" to share my story, but I was encouraged to keep it as quiet as possible. This old school practice to avoid challenging authority left me confused, angry, and stifled. I only talked about it quietly, and in very private circles. The military was most certainly considered the "authority," but I knew better.... I knew the truth......
For the next thirty-five years I worked through the effects and side effects of mind numbing medications, counseling, and therapies. I mask these effects while discovering skills to inspire others to achieve their goals in life and business. Deep in my core I felt like a hypocrite for not overcoming my own demons. I develop and master coping skills that get me through life....one day at a time. I actually become a master at making others laugh.
My beautiful little world resembles neatly stacked wooden blocks, but like the game of Jenga, blocks come tumbling down...
Thirty-six years after the rape, I attended a community event for Veterans to obtain a ten percent discount card at local merchants. An astute benefits counselor for Veterans Services notices that my service history is unique. His questions begin to poke at the wooden blocks that are holding my world together. Over time, he builds a relationship with me and I begin to trust him as a person. This process slowly builds my ability to trust in a system and to believe in my ability to bring change.
I'm inspired by the possibility that my strength and public voice can help others who are in similar situations. Combining the coping tools I created over the years, with the experience and courage I gained undergoing my massive surgery to prevent the spread of pancreatic cancer, I agreed to open the old wounds and take on the fight for my benefits. It is no surprise when this fight requires bringing in assistance from my Congressman to help locate the medical files that "mysteriously" vanished or were altered. I fought for two long years and used the maturity I now have to wrap my arms around the nineteen year old girl who couldn't speak up in a loud enough voice at that time.
The changes taking place in the military are making it difficult for them to sweep the atrocities of rape under the rug. I reached deep into the bowels of their files and pulled up irrefutable evidence of my attack, rape, and wrongful discharge. The hidden documentation and evidence of a cover-up assisted me in exposing these wrongful acts. New documentation claimed I had a character of behavior disorder since birth. This was shocking to read, especially since this disorder wasn't present upon my entrance exam, nor when I received promotions or commendations. The military only claimed this apparent "disorder" existed in me when I was raped and immediately discharged. Interesting...huh? I'm happy to say that the evidence dug up with my claim shined light on a truth that could no longer be denied.
It took two long years, but my resolve to expose the truth kept me motivated to see it through. I have been awarded benefits for PTSD caused by the rape, as well as back injuries that have subsequently required years of treatment and surgery. The benefits are credited back only to the date of my appeal in 2013. I’m now under review to have my benefits allocated to the actual date of the attack- which they now fully acknowledge. They tell me I may have another two year wait for a decision. I survived the attack, I conquer the residual effects of PTSD as they arise, and I am blessed to have the support of my family and friends as I now thrive in life. As an inspirational speaker who has traveled the world to speak on other topics, I’m excited to be in an emotional position to now speak to the atrocities that occur in our military in an effort to inspire others with similar experiences. Telling my story and sharing the tools I utilized to transition from "Survivor" to "Conqueror" is my passion, and has truly become my mission. I look forward to working with others to impact and influence the continued change in our military, so we can protect those who defend us.
I encourage you to visit the Protect Our Defenders Website to discover the shocking facts concerning sexual assault in our military.
Business subjects remain with business subjects and the topic of her military experience are not shared in these forums. What is conveyed is the ability to overcome ANY obstacle that is placed in your path. The audience is provided with the tools to face all challenges that life presents. Annamarie only discusses her military experience when working in the forum where it is requested.
Protect Our Defenders
Mission: Ending the Epidemic of Military Rape
Protect Our Defenders (POD) works to educate the public and policymakers on the crisis of sexual violence in the military. Founded in 2011, POD is the only national human rights organization solely dedicated to combating the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in the US military, preventing retaliation against victims, and ensuring justice and support for survivors. Survivors of rape and sexual assault encounter numerous obstacles in acquiring immediate and long-term care: they are frequently silenced, denied health care and discharged involuntarily.We honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members. We seek to fix the military training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence and harassment — systems that often re-victimize assault survivors by blaming them while failing to prosecute perpetrators.
National Sexual Assault Hot Line
Need help? 1 800 656-HOPE (4673)
Click on the link below to chat one-on-one with a trained RAINN support specialist, any time 24/7.
RAINN - Rape Abuse Incest National Network
The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline is the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support through an interface as intuitive as instant messaging.
How can the Online Hotline help me?
Chat one-on-one with a RAINN support specialist to access a range of free services including:
- Confidential, judgment-free support from a trained support specialist
- Someone to help you talk through what happened
- Resources that can assist with your next steps toward healing and recovery
- Referrals for long term support in your area
- Information about the laws and resources in your area
- Basic information about medical resources
"Now I'm a Conqueror, Champion and Advocate"
February 2015 - I am honored to testify to the Senate Congressional Committee on Veterans Affairs