JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
When someone mentions sexual assault, usually those within the room think about women being assaulted. It may not be as common, but men are targeted, preyed upon and assaulted as well. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1 in 71 men are assaulted, or suffer from an attempt, within their life. One is too many.
Men and women are not that different in the way they live their personal lives and their work relationships. When starting a new job, or moving to a new place, men look for others to bond with and create friendships and mentorships with someone they grow comfortable around.
Unfortunately, sometimes that trust and bond is taken for granted.
“What I did not expect was for this sergeant to abuse their authority as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), squadron unit sponsor and decent human being,” said Trent Smith, Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) Program Ambassador. “I feared their power and authority within the squadron and was frozen due to previous child sexual assaults and unable to recognize the signs. The following sexual assault changed my life forever.”
Smith was a brand-new Airman, straight out of technical training school, headed to his first duty station in Germany at 18 years old. His assaulter was his first direct link to active military life, his first squadron and a whole new world overseas. They used their rank, position and threats to ensure that Smith never talked about the assault with anyone.
“The NCO employed tactics of coercion to include power and control over the social environment and isolated venue,” Smith said. “They established the thought of threat to my career if I were to tell, intense humiliation and the intense guilt and manipulation after the assault had occurred.”
After an assault occurs, the victim goes through many things in their head. Did they do something wrong? Should they tell? Who do they tell? Will they be taken seriously? How did this happen? How do they move forward? There is no clear-cut answer, and everyone is different.
After remembering his training, and events like this should be documented, and confiding in another Airmen who opened up to Smith that the particular NCO had been accused of this before, he filed an unrestricted report that same week, because he “knew he wouldn’t be the last” and “had a duty to do the right thing.”
“I felt lost, hopeless, mislead and angry. Now, I feel empowered that the actions I took were to protect myself and Airmen who came after me,” Smith said.
AFW2 provides different resources, resiliency skills and coping techniques to help all warriors learn to cope following situations like what Trent went through.“AFW2 introduced me to a true family that wanted nothing but the opportunity to show love, kindness and a listening ear. They dedicated their time to help me work through things that plagued my heart and never judged my experience.”
The mental and physical recovery from a sexual assault is a life-long road. Victims typically question their role in the incident, have night terrors, triggers and emotions that can be hard to keep at bay. Know that you are not alone, it is not your fault, it will not be an easy journey…but it will be okay.
“The pain inside is real. Seeking help outside of yourself and your own understanding is the most powerful tool in your bag,” Smith said. “Releasing the things that we hold in those dark places that we don’t want to talk about are the things that will finally release you from the prison of your own mind to break into freedom and the dawn of a new day and a new life.”
While April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it is a topic that we should discuss year-round. Always find ways to advocate for victims, always find resources to help victims and always listen when a victim is confiding in you.
“To my attacker. I forgive you,” Trent Smith.