A Place to Begin By Jennifer Norris, USAF, Ret

Jennifer Norris, Satellite Communications, Hanscom AFB, Mass (1997)
Jennifer Norris, Satellite Communications Technician, Hanscom AFB, Mass (1997)

November 9, 2012

I am struggling to find a place to begin. Do I tell you all the nitty gritty details to persuade you that I am telling you the truth, do I just simply state what happened and assume that I will be believed, or do I tell you the story in a way that will help you understand wholeheartedly why I wanted to die?

All I really want is for you to know the truth so that you will understand just how much I loved serving my country. I don’t want to have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I don’t want to feel judged. I don’t want to be paranoid that someone is looking at me with disdain all the while thinking this is why women should not be in the military. I put the uniform on with pride. I wanted to have a twenty plus year career.

I ended up falling into the deepest darkest depths of despair while I struggled with substance abuse & isolation, worked twice as hard to be half the man, and tried not to take things personally.

It still feels dirty for me to admit that I was raped by one and sexually assaulted by three other different men in the first two years of my military career. I was ashamed then and I am still ashamed. But what is worse is that after I reported the crimes, I was betrayed by the same people I was willing to take a bullet for. Traumatized by those experiences, I was thankful that I only experienced gender bias throughout the rest of my career because it paled in comparison. I look back and ask myself why.

Why would one stay if they got abused so badly?

But there are other more important questions that I asked myself instead:

Why was I the chosen victim?
Why were there so many perpetrators?
Why was I the first to speak up and press charges?
Why didn’t the others report so I would have been protected?
Why am I the bad guy because I reported the crimes?
Why is everyone downplaying the seriousness of their actions?
Why am I now a troublemaker?
Why am I being isolated?
Why won’t they let me train on the equipment I need to get promoted?
Why do they keep giving me a hard time about everything?
Why won’t anybody help me?
Why can’t I just quit?
Why am I drinking so much?
Why am I blowing up at people?
Why am I crying?
Why don’t I want anyone to touch me?
Why can’t I transfer to a new duty station and get a fresh start?
Why can’t they see how dedicated I am?
Why can’t they see how hard I work?
Why won’t they promote me?
Why did they choose someone below me as the Team Chief?
Why am I outraged?
Why are you threatening to take my rank away from me?
Why do I even bother?

In the end, nothing really matters.

I cannot even begin to describe to you how difficult it was to find answers to these questions. I never really understood racism or discrimination until one day I went from hero to zero overnight. Why? Because I didn’t want to be sexually assaulted on a daily basis by a predator who was escalating. Unfortunately, I could not escape it because I didn’t have the choice to just quit. I had two choices both of which sucked. I deal with the predator alone which includes always trying to outsmart someone who lives to control and manipulate or I report the behavior to my Chain of Command in an attempt to make it stop and protect anyone else from having to go through what I went through.

I chose the latter eventually. I kept quiet to protect my career, I reported the crimes to protect my career, and then I didn’t get help to protect my career. I believed in the core values of excellence, integrity, and service before self. I took service before self to a whole new level and believe me, I am not the only woman who has done so.

Why is it that people don’t think women should be in the military again?

I am so confused.

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