Rape, PTSD and fear of retaliation
Allison Gill of The Invisible War comes to Cal Lutheran on March 8
By Michael Sullivan 03/07/2013
Though rape, by definition, should be pretty hard to deny — the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse, i.e., no means no — in this day and age, there appears to be a lot of gray area for the victims of rape. Some think that if the memories are foggy or someone was in the wrong place, perhaps rape isn’t actually rape. And this is what Petty Officer Allison Gill believed for 12 years until she finally sought help from a therapist when she started experiencing extreme symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Gill is one of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who have been raped in the military, and she is one of the many who didn’t report it for fear of retaliation or charges of filing a false report. In the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War, director Kirby Dick leads viewers down the meandering path of victims recalling their stories of rape and violence, and top military officials denying allegations or, at the very least, avoiding the reality of sexual trauma happening in the military.
Gill was one of the several women who spoke about the fear of retaliation in the film. Cal Lutheran will be hosting a screening of the film on Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m., at Preus-Brandt Forum, located south of Olsen Road between Mountclef Boulevard and Campus Drive on the Thousand Oaks campus. It will be followed by a discussion with Gill in commemoration of International Women’s Day. She spoke with the VCReporter about life and rape in the military.
VCReporter: You are coming to speak about The Invisible War at Cal Lutheran on March 8. When was film made?
Allison Gill: I filmed my portion in 2011. My particular part in the film was during a montage of women, back-to-back-to-back, talking about how they were threatened if they were to report what had happened to them.
I saw several different scenarios in the film. All of them were sad, disheartening and brutal. There was even a story about man being attacked by two other men. Tell me about yours.
In 1995, I was stationed at a nuclear-power training command in Orlando. So I had just recently gotten out of boot camp. I was one of the first women accepted in the nuclear program. So there were about 600 men on base and about three or four women.
That must have been intimidating.
Not at first, because I had been indoctrinated into this family of brothers who were going to protect me at all costs and support me. At first, there were some things that I noticed. Because they had never let women in before, they were not used to having women around. So they had to bring a GYN onto staff. They had to convert restrooms for females. They had to convert barracks. They had to do probably a lot of work that may have made some of them resent us from the get-go. Plus, we had lower standards for physical fitness, which I found that a lot of the men didn’t think was fair.
I can understand that.
I did make a lot of friends. I was understandably popular because, of the four women, two of them were married. … One night, maybe in August — it was shortly after I arrived — we were having a party in one of the barracks, and we were all drinking. At some point I had either — and here is where the memories get fuzzy for two reasons.
Memory loss is a symptom of PTSD. There are a couple of other reasons, too. It will become clear when I tell you what happened when I went to report it.
I felt I had done something wrong. I hid and blocked it from myself.
Something wrong as in reporting it or something wrong as in you invited this attack to happen?
That I invited it because, after the attack, I remember gaining consciousness sometime in the early morning, probably around 4:30. It occurred to me that I had to go to report to physical training because we did that every morning — ran two miles. I went to get up and I was bleeding and in pain. And I started to think something went terribly wrong.
You were blacked out when this happened?
I was in and out of consciousness but to the best of my memory, there was drinking and partying and then someone made advances on me and I didn’t want them to. From that point on, it gets very, very [fuzzy]. I woke up, I didn’t know where my clothes were, and I was bleeding because I had been sodomized. And I knew something was wrong — I was only 21, 22 at the time. My first thought was, I am going to be late for physical therapy. But I knew something was very, very wrong. I got to the master at arms and they sat me down and I said to them, “I think I was raped.” And at that point, I kind of got an eye roll and a heavy exhale and then he started asking me questions. And the questions were, “Well, what were you wearing? Were you drinking? Was I flirting with this person?” I said, yes, I was [flirting with this person]. I was asked if this person was married, then asked if I had a boyfriend.
Was he married?
He was married. Then I was asked if I had a boyfriend, maybe we had gotten into a fight recently. I was single at the time.
What does that have to do with rape?
I don’t know. After I answered all the questions, he warned me that filing a false report had bad consequences. He said that if I filed a false report I could destroy this other sailor’s career. I could destroy my career because I could be court-martialed, I could lose rank, or I could lose my school; and I was in the most prestigious school in the country — the nuclear power training command. I could lose my designation. I could lose money or even get time in the brig, which is jail. I was told I could be charged with adultery because he was married. Then he projected, “Maybe possibly, maybe this is what happened. Maybe you got a little too drunk, too flirty. You presented this person with an opportunity and that person took advantage of that opportunity you gave them. Maybe you feel a little ashamed because of the mistake you made. And you should really do everything you can to avoid filing a false report because paperwork is involved and how detrimental this could be to your and his career, etc.” He basically terrified me. From that moment on and for the next 12 years I believed that I did something wrong.
Tell me what changed your thinking.
Up until about 2008, I started getting panic attacks and anxiety, PTSD symptoms pretty early on, but they started getting really bad in 2007 and I went to see a doctor. They said I had generalized anxiety and I have the signs of PTSD, etc. They asked if I had remembered if anything had happened and I couldn’t think of anything because in my mind, I wasn’t attacked.
How does PTSD work? You experience these symptoms, but you don’t know why they are happening?
I was getting panic attacks. I thought I was having a heart attack and drove myself to the hospital. Eventually, they found out it was anxiety. I started seeing a therapist through the VA and, eventually, in seeing that therapist, the incident was uncovered.
You were told not to or you didn’t feel like you should file a report.
In fact, I hid it. After I ran two miles that day, I went to the infirmary because I had bruising and was in pain. I had heard a rumor back then you could prevent a pregnancy if you took a bunch of birth control pills at once. I had told them I had fallen due to physical therapy and that’s why I was bruised. I got some Motrin and I asked for birth control. When I turned that information in to the VA, I’m like, “Look, I went in with a bunch of bruising.” And they said, “But yea, you said it was for this and this. We can’t verify that this occurred when you said it happened.” And three times they denied my claims. Finally, it eventually went through when the director of veteran’s benefits, Gen. Allison Hickey, found out that I was in this movie (The Invisible War) and that I had been denied claims over four ad half years. And in three weeks my claim was settled. Yay for me, but I am still trying to advocate for the hundreds of thousands that don’t have the benefit of having been in a movie for 10 seconds.
Were you surprised this was happening to men as well?
No, actually. I knew a guy after I got out of the military who was a marine that that had happened to, and he had all these terrible symptoms, but he was able to connect the dots with me [and my experience with PTSD].
Was getting your claim approved a catalyst for the healing process with you?
It was huge. Honestly, dealing with the VA was much more traumatic than the actual incident. I had to relive it and relive it and told I was lying and that I wasn’t being accurate and that I didn’t report and it was my fault. And all the mounds of paperwork. And I work for the VA.
When you are speaking to men and women about rape situations, and we know so many go unreported, what is your advice to them?
Honestly, I think by not reporting it is going to cause you more problems in the long run. I wasn’t able to get care, because I didn’t report it.