Ashley was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance when she stopped their sexual encounter and tried to leave an uncomfortable situation.
A few months later, she took precautions to make herself safe, but was raped while unconscious. She was fully clothed and in her own hotel room.
Read Ashley's story in her own words below.
Every bit of what I considered my strength and worth left my body in that moment, when instead of fighting back, I froze.
The person who assaulted me was a soldier who was a friend of a friend I had gotten to know over the summer. He seemed like a decent guy. I’d had a really bad week and was grateful for a four-day weekend in which a friend of mine and I were going to go to Seoul and relax. Things didn’t work out so great, and my weekend spiraled into unbelievable drama with too many people staying in our hotel room. The last night, we went out to dinner at a pub, and I was really over everything that was going on with the group I was with. I happened to see that soldier I knew at the bar, and I went over to talk to him. We had some drinks and decided to go back to his hotel room.
We were kissing, he undressed me, and then I realized someone else was in the room. I got uncomfortable and excused myself to the bathroom, embarrassed because I was exposed to whoever else was in the room. I hoped it was an innocent mistake; he didn’t know his friend was back in the room. I could collect myself in the bathroom, get dressed, and maybe take a raincheck on the evening. Instead, he followed me.
He stood outside the bathroom door with it cracked open – he wouldn’t let me close it. On top of everything, I realized I had started my period, and I told him as much. I said I wanted to take a shower. Instead of giving me privacy, he came inside and stood there in the hotel bathroom right on the other side of the curtain. I told him I could handle this on my own, and he scoffed. His posturing felt aggressive. I started to panic. I stood in the shower in my bra, just waiting with the water running, hoping he would leave. He stayed.
I wanted to get out of there. Nothing about this felt comfortable. I had never seen him act this way before, but I’d never been around him except in a group setting. When he stepped out of the bathroom, I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around myself. I went to gather my clothes and started to get dressed.
I said I thought I should go – maybe we’d see each other another time. He protested. As I was getting dressed, he said it had “been so long”, alluding to the fact that he hadn’t had sex in quite some time. He asked me to stay. I continued getting dressed and at that point had thrown on a shirt and pulled on my jeans. I hadn’t buttoned or zipped them yet. I wasn’t able to get that far. He slammed me against the wall.
I said I just wanted to go. He pressed his arm across my collarbones, holding me by my shirt. He pinned me there to the wall. I’m a broad girl who had an athletic body. I’d rarely experienced a feeling of helplessness when faced with an aggressor. I was a strong woman, and a lot of my self-worth came from being strong. I never thought any man could take that from me. Every bit of what I considered my strength and worth left my body in that moment, when instead of fighting back, I froze.
“I just want to go,” I said.
He laughed and shook his head, then said the scariest thing I’d ever heard. “I’m not done with you yet.”
He loosened the hold he had on me and I panicked, fearing what he would do next. He slammed me into the wall again. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I was only two feet from the door, pinned to the wall, and all I wanted to do was get out of there. He tried to force my legs apart and moved aside my belt that was hanging loose in the loops of my jeans. He pushed himself against me. He was going to rape me. If I wasn’t going to have sex with him, he was going to take it. My mind started working, trying to find a way out of this situation. I called him by his rank and his last name. He stopped and scoffed.
“You really think that’s gonna stop me?”
I started pleading with him to let me go. I started crying. I kept hoping whoever was in the room would step in – it must have been his friend that was there at the bar. I didn’t know his name, but I hoped he would come over and get him off of me. He didn’t. No one was going to help me.
Suddenly, it was like something in his head clicked. The cold, uncaring look in his eyes - a look that still haunts me - vanished. He almost looked embarrassed, but he kept his aggressive tone. He moved his arm and let me go; I slid down the wall. I still couldn’t move. He bent down and picked up the rest of my clothes and my jacket and threw them at me. He told me to get dressed and leave before he changed his mind. I threw on my jacket and made sure my wallet was still in the pocket – I didn’t want to have to come back for anything. I fled the hotel.
I made my way back to my hotel room full of people I didn’t want to face. I didn’t look back as I walked, and it felt like everyone was staring at me. I hugged my jacket tighter and walked faster. When I got to my room, my friend asked what happened. I hadn’t realized, but my bra strap was broken from where he grabbed it and my shirt and slammed me against the wall. I just shook my head. I couldn’t say anything.
A month or so later, I saw his friend on a bus. He stared at me in this way that conveyed some kind of sorrow or regret. He said nothing. He just looked at me for a few minutes, then turned to face the window the rest of the trip.
When I got to my next duty station, I was ready for a fresh start. We waited in the terminal to catch a bus to our base when I heard his name over the loudspeaker. I froze. I looked over to the desk, and there he was. We locked eyes for only a second, but that’s all it took for me to get physically sick. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I didn’t come out until it was nearly time for my bus.
Yet again, one moment changed my life. I was finally feeling like I was going to put it behind me. I wanted to put it behind me, but the truth was it broke me in a new way. I’ve spent more than a decade looking over my shoulder, afraid to attend my husband’s company picnics or walk through the waiting area in the lobby of the Vet Center because…what if he’s there? Like people always say, “it’s a small Army.”
I don’t even know if I’d recognize him now, and he probably wouldn’t recognize me. I didn’t want to be a target, so I started eating. I thought if I was fat, no one would want me; no one would rape me, or try to. This incident caused me lifelong trauma that I’m finally getting help with.
My entire life changed course because of one person, one night. I was raped a few months later in my own hotel room where I went to bed fully clothed. Letting some friends drop their buddy off in the room to sleep it off on our floor while they continued drinking and I wanted to go to sleep – being nice – got me raped. But somehow, that one night when I was slammed against the wall was even worse. It stripped away how I viewed my strength, my self-worth, and my confidence. The two incidents together gave me a horrible relationship with my body. I was binge eating for comfort and drinking to forget. Alcohol allowed me to be out in public without caring. I have to be high to have an orgasm because it’s the only way my mind and body relax enough to fully enjoy sex. The anxiety I carry with me on days I can leave the house without pushing through the shaking, sweating, and sometimes crying out of nowhere is debilitating. Every elevator or grocery aisle with a man, every man approaching me with a clipboard in a parking lot or knocking on my door trying to sign me up for pest control – these are the everyday events that can trigger a complete breakdown. I’m still trying to learn how to control it, but most days it feels hopeless.
The worst part? I wasn’t even given an evaluation for PTSD due to MST when I finally filed my initial claim. I cannot put into words what that lack of validation felt like. But I filed again. This time, I have paperwork to back up the diagnosis, and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been suicidal for fifteen years. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been able to hold down a steady job or run errands without an anxiety or panic attack. All that matters is paperwork. I have to relive that trauma in detail to make sure the VA knows exactly what happened and how it affects my life as well as those around me so they can judge my worth; nothing’s worse than having to admit how bad you’ve been over the years or seeing the outside perspective from family members on how you’ve changed from an outgoing, funny, energetic person to someone who barely functions at everyday tasks. And I don’t even know if going through all this will matter this time either. But at least I’m getting the help I need to keep moving forward.