"I needed to use the word 'rape'"

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
WARNING: This story, in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, contains graphic language that may be disturbing to some readers.

This 23 year-old female presents to the ER today because of an alleged rape.

She states she was at a party last evening and had been drinking heavily, and a male person at the party was bothering her.

She had so much to drink that she passed out. She woke up this morning with her clothes off and dried semen on her proximal thighs and perineal area. She did not recall any sexual intercourse but seemed to presume that she had been raped.

This was taken from an emergency room note written April 18, 1993 when Michele Rogers, then Michele Tackett, walked into the Community Hospital in Springfield, Ohio hours after she was sexually violated by someone in her own home.

"I was in my own house, with my own friends. I thought I was safe," she said. "I made some very bad decisions that night."

Michele, who is now a 28th Bomb Wing protocol assistant and retired first sergeant, was a senior airman who just graduated from Airman Leadership School. She decided to host a party at her house for her classmates. Everyone was drinking and having a great time - or so she thought.

"I allowed someone who I thought was my friend to mix a drink for me," she said. "It was so strong, but he kept pressuring me to drink it - so I gave in and chugged, not knowing he put a date rape drug in it. That's the last thing I remember before waking up on my bed. My shirt and bra were still on, but my pants were on the floor; and there was something wet running down my leg."

Shannon Holstein, 28th Bomb Wing Sexual Assault Response coordinator, said that in Michele's case, it is obvious that the perpetrator intended to render Michele incapacitated so she could not say or show consent by putting something in her drink.

"In my opinion, this is no different from a person facilitating another person to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in the hopes it will render the person unable to consent," Mrs. Holstein said. "Alcohol is the most-used date rape drug in this country."

Michele said that after she took account of herself and her surroundings, her mind started taking her in several different directions at once, and she started to panic. And then she did the worst thing any victim of sexual assault could do - she took a shower.

"I truly felt disgusting," she said. "I had to wash what he did off of me."

Several hours after the Airman had forced himself on her, Michele found herself at the community hospital, waiting on her test results. The doctors told her the tests proved she had intercourse, but there was no way for them to determine if consent was given.

"Often consent is the central issue in a sexual assault case, not whether a sex act occurred," said Mrs. Holstein. "The initiator of sexual contact is required to get consent from the other party. Consent is a verbal 'yes' or overt acts that indicates a 'yes.'"

Mrs. Holstein added that if the person being initiated for sexual contact is intoxicated, they might not be able to provide legal consent even if their actions show otherwise.

"The problem with this concept is there is no statute that informs the public about when a person is too intoxicated to give consent, as there is for driving while intoxicated," she said. "Single Airmen out there in the dating scene should presume someone who is under the influence of alcohol, especially someone they don't know, lacks the ability to consent, regardless of how the person is acting."

Michele said she was left asking herself whether or not she deserved what was happening to her. She recalled every detail she could remember - how she dressed, the way she behaved and who she interacted with. She kept replaying the night over and over again in her mind.

"Not only did he make me a victim," she said. "I made myself a victim."

By the following Monday morning, Michele found herself in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, at the Office of Special Investigations section giving her statement to special agents.

"I was so scared I felt sick. It was a very long process that ate away at me," she said.

Michele said one of the hardest things to deal with was learning that her attacker had bragged about what he had done to other Airmen.

"He laughed about how out of it I was when he forced himself on me," she said. "He didn't show any remorse at all. It was funny to him."

Michele said that her attacker's attitude did not change throughout the investigation and hearings. However, she said the Air Force provided tremendous support with the best supervisors, doctors and lawyers. They gave her power over her attacker's career in the Air Force, and she opted to end it. He was discharged with more than $10,000 in personal legal fees that he had accrued. But, despite the help she was given and the resolution she received, there were always constant reminders of her attack.

"It wasn't just one night, it became two years of my life," she said. "I used to walk down the street and see his face in a crowd. I would think about it every day."

Michele said initially, she couldn't even say the word "rape." She would talk to her psychiatrist and refer to it as, "the night he forced himself on me." It took a long time for her to be able to say it.

"My psychiatrist kept telling me I needed to say it. I needed to use the word 'rape,'" she said. "Slowly, I started using it, and from there I began writing college papers on acquaintance rape and speaking openly about it."

Mrs. Holstein said there are far-reaching effects of sexual assault that impact a wide variety of people.

"Regardless of how a victim is sexually assaulted--by a stranger in the alley while the victim was sober or by a fellow Airman at a party when the victim was too drunk to consent--the fallout is the same," she said. "The victim suffers, and the ripple effect reaches all of us who know the victim, and it always affects the Air Force mission."

It took several years, but Michele said she was finally able to move on. Her desire to help others through her experience led her to become a victim advocate in 2004, and she later served as a first sergeant. Now, she only remembers the assault on the date it happened. She has put her rape and her rapist out of her mind.

"He doesn't control me anymore," she said. "I'm not his victim. I'm in control of my life now. I took back what he stole from me."