ABE, UNITED KINGDOM
RAF MILDENHALL, England – Living has always been a challenge for Senior Airman Jane Smith.
Seemingly born into an uphill world, physically and emotionally tested at every step, spirituality had continually strengthened her and still propels her forward in life, she said.
Smith was nearly driven to suicide after being sexually assaulted in 2010. Though raped and robbed of her dignity, 21-year-old Smith rebounded, vowing, “I’m going to make it!”
To some, Smith’s story may be all too familiar; to others, it’s an unbelievably grim tale. For Smith, it’s a tragic account of a life she’s lived and matured from. She said she hopes that through the price she’s already paid, others may grow stronger and wiser.
Smith’s calamity started at birth.
Born to a drug-addicted mother, Jane was abandoned before her second birthday, lived briefly in a foster home and was later adopted by the man she grew to know as, "Dad."
The young Jane had trust issues and always felt she was living someone else’s life.
"Still, through dedication and persistence, I did well in school, and studied difficult subjects like Latin and (higher) maths," said Smith.
The adolescent Smith continued to distrust. Her dad was physically abusive, which when compounded with her troubled past, led to constant headaches and despair.
"I was a runaway by 17, lived briefly in a shelter, but continued to study on my own,” she said. “I really liked school and wanted to be there."
Smith’s future looked bleak, and she found herself contemplating suicide, she said. Two things continued to propel her forward when life seemed to continue to crumble around her.
Smith was a devoted Christian and felt strongly that suicide was the ultimate betrayal to God and to the few who loved her, she said. Secondly, since the tender age of 7, the year her mother died, Smith always wanted to serve her country.
She believed that serving in the Air Force made her a part of an organization that strengthened the frail, and provided a top-notch education for those who hadn’t the means to attend college, she said.
She still had a dilemma - to enlist, she first had to finish high school.
Against her better judgment, Smith agreed to return home, with a promise from her dad that the abuse wouldn’t continue.
He kept his promise and Smith prevailed. She shipped off to Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in July, after her high school graduation.
Entering the Air Force meant a new life for Smith and after BMT, she was trained in her Air Force specialty, earned senior airman below the zone, earned an annual career field award in 2010, and was on her way toward her goal of making chief master sergeant.
"For the first time in my life, I felt like nothing could stop me," said Smith.
But just as she felt things were finally going good for her, a friend betrayed her in an unthinkable manner.
During a temporary duty in at a stateside location, that "friend" stripped her of her clothes, held her down and raped her, as she begged him and pleaded with “no, please stop, I don’t want this!” the entire time, she said.
“(The alleged assailant) and I stayed on the same floor of our hotel,” recalled Smith. “He came over to my room to watch a movie with me. I didn’t see him as a threat and was friends with him at home station, so didn’t see a problem with watching a movie together.
“When he got to my room and started watching the movie, he started trying to touch me and asked if I wanted to (mess around sexually),” she said. “I told him, ‘no.’ He didn’t take no for an answer, pinned me to the bed and stripped off my clothes, then …”
Smith said she was then raped.
Smith, a 5-foot, 93-pound female was easily pinned down and couldn’t break free, she said.
After being raped, the assailant then tried to hug her, in a manner as if they had just made love consensually.
Feeling sick, scared, ashamed and used, Smith quickly got dressed, pretended nothing happened and left.
She continued to serve the final week of her TDY working nearly side-by-side with her assailant.
When she returned home to her base on America’s East Coast, Smith’s coworkers noticed a drastic change in her.
“I left for my TDY a smiley and friendly (Jane), and returned something else,” she said. In fact, Smith’s supervisor noticed she never smiled, was withdrawn, and would make frequent trips to the bathroom and return looking like she had just stopped crying.
A friend, who was also a rape survivor, confronted and confided in Smith, admitting that she had been raped and feared Smith was showing the same signs she did.
Smith revealed the truth about what happened on her TDY, she said. Her supervisor and coworkers were very supportive of her, and she filed an unrestricted report with her base’s sexual assault and response coordinator.
Smith relocated to the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron in early 2011 and is currently a victim advocate for RAF Mildenhall’s SARC, Kimberly Dickman.
Now engaged and set to marry in 2014, Smith is paving the path forward in life and in her career, she said. She continues to dedicate much of her time to her faith and now is also devoted to helping those who may have suffered the way she did, sexual assault victims.
When asked by Dickman to speak out about her experience, Smith gladly volunteered.
“If telling my story can help other people, then that’s what I want to do,” said the energetic Smith, who hopes to deploy soon.
“I still want to serve my country,” she said. “I love the Air Force and volunteer for every deployment that my rank qualifies me for. Being raped partially defines who I am now, but will never define who I’m going to become. If – no – when I make (chief master sergeant) someday, I’m going to do everything I can to help foster a healthy team of airmen.”
Editor’s note: Jane Smith is a fictional name. The actual name, assignment and TDY locations of the alleged rape victim are withheld. However, other facts are all actual accounts given by the alleged victim.
This work, Overcoming sexual assault: A victim’s candid story, by SMSgt Kevin Wallace, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.