Sexual assault in the military is a pervasive problem. The Pentagon estimates that about 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted in 2018. Last week on Veterans’ Voices, we met Navy veteran Dawn Bellinger of Beavercreek who talked about the discrimination she faced in the military. There’s more to her story. This week, Dawn continues her conversation with her friend Connie Jackson of Kettering.
A warning, this story contains references to a rape.
Connie Jackson (CJ): What made you decide to go into the service and how did you choose what branch of service?
Dawn Bellinger (DB): I came from a military family. My father had been a fighter pilot in the Air Force. My sister was in the Air Force as an air traffic controller. My younger brother was in the Navy as a machinist. I chose the Navy because, dad and sister in the Air Force, brother in the Navy, so, I will even out the scale.
CJ: So, where did you go after boot camp?
DB: After boot camp, I went to San Diego to go to computer school. It was called an A school. And so, I did my A school there. That's also where I was raped by a fellow sailor. In fact, one of our instructors in A school, who was just a lovely man, a liberal man, tried telling us women, if you do get raped and it's off base, you may as well not say anything because they will just turn it over to Shore Patrol, and then Shore Patrol will not do anything. They will say, well, you deserved it, that type of thing. So, I was raped off base by a fellow sailor, whom I had been dating. I never said a word because I knew I would be put on trial, if anything was even done. Unfortunately, mine is not a unique story. It's happened to so many, so many women.
CJ: And to happen so early in your service, and not have much support.
DB: Right. I had no support. I didn't tell anybody because rape is still stigmatizing. I knew it would be even worse being in the military because there was already so much sexual harassment and misogyny, and all that. I knew that if male sailors found out, they would probably just taunt me and harass me more, and everything. So, yeah, I didn't say a word to anybody. Not until many, many, many years after I had been out of the service, did I finally say something. And then, I started finding out, that's when I started finding out, it's not a unique situation.
CJ: Many more had the same experience.
DB: Oh, yeah, yeah. People keep saying, “Oh, it's getting better,” and I keep saying, “Really?” You know, my experiences were in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and you're telling me it's better. How? When it isn't acknowledged that this is a problem. They don't think about PTSD with female veterans. “Well, you're not in war.” No, but I was raped. So how is anything changed? And I've met young women, veterans, that had the same experience, and they’re old enough to be my daughters. It hasn't changed. We speak up more, but unfortunately, the whole culture has to change.
CJ: Yeah, right. I also find it admirable that you still, with all the different experiences you had, you still don't regret your service at all. You find this connection with other veterans and the value in your service. So, thanks for sharing all of that.
DB: Well, I would like to thank you for asking me, Connie, because we have had female veterans for a long, long time, hundreds of years, female veterans, women in military service in this country. Yet we're still not up upheld as much as the male veterans. So, yeah, I do wish women's voices were out there more and that we were taken more seriously.
Navy veteran Dawn Bellinger and her friend Connie Jackson spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.