Kelsey Harbor (Jagla), USMC Veteran and survivor of MST, Board of Director for MSTM
Once upon a time, I believed in the theory of the “Boy who cried Wolf”. I believed in the power of my word.
That changed long before my first Military Sexual Trauma as a poolee in the Marine Corps. From that moment on I knew my word in the military was not my bond: my sexuality and gender were.
From the moment I decided to join the Marine Corps. I was sexualized. My recruiter traded me a drug waiver for sexual favors. My MCT instructor cornered me multiple times to feel me up. A female MCT instructor told me this is “just the way it is and to suck it up”. An instructor for MOS school told me many times cornering me in my room and making me bend over for his amusement that “no one would believe me”.
When I was charged with disobeying a direct order immediately after reporting all of my assaults, I knew it was true: no one believed me.
It didn’t matter how “real” I was, it didn’t matter how many people knew me and knew how honest I was, how many people knew how “blunt” or Knew how I kept it “100” AT ALL TIMES, at that point I was only a female marine, “a walking mattress”, a subhuman sex apparatus that couldn’t be trusted no matter my how impeccable with my word I have always been. Nothing I would say would hold any weight.
I then thought back to the times growing up when I told adults in charge that unwanted sexual advances continued to happen to me, it was always dismissed: always brushed under the rug. When I talked about my adult male family member making me watch porn VHS tapes when I was 5 years old, nobody believed me. And even before that, a little boy to tried “play house” with me, taking his clothes off and laying on top of me, with adults laughing it off for months each time that I brought it up, like I must be some kind of “ fast girl” if I already had my first boyfriend before I hit double digits in age.
When I told adults another boy was having me get naked in his tent to do things that made me feel uncomfortable, and yet again they didn’t believe me, I began to understand that society doesn’t seem to care about what happened to my body.
What was the problem though? Was it because I was young? Was it because I didn’t understand the way of the world?Or was it simply because I was female? After all, a man can say “I’ll pay you back Friday, you have my word.” A woman cannot do the same thing.
Why has no one ever believed me the FIRST time?
Why does it take so much, why does it take for this campaign for people to listen?
Why are my words of truth not as sacred as my assailants’ innocence?
A man can say “my word is my bond” and shake on it then instantly receive the trust of another man or woman.
A woman? A woman when giving her “word” is questioned, pushed aside, laughed at, humiliated and made to seem lesser human with the same physical words that we speak.
Why can’t our words be our bond?
I think that’s the main question here.
A woman should not have to explain why what she’s saying is true.
A woman should not have to say “please believe me.”
Yet here we are, doing a “believe me” campaign to again push for the right for our words to be believed to be as truthful as a man’s.
We are still begging people to believe us.
At one point these campaigns won’t be necessary.
At one point myself as a woman will be able to look at any man or any other woman and say “I WAS RAPED” and be believed.
We will be able to say “I was raped” and get JUSTICE.
And at some point “the boy who cried Wolf” will be “the person who cried Wolf”.
But we’re still socially conditioned not to listen to female voices, and especially not if they are angry and emotional. But you see, we’re RAPE survivors: we have every right to be angry and emotional, but no one seems to believe us if we are. What’s the respectable, emotionally appropriate way to say “I was raped,” and have someone believe me?
I’ve said it as a little girl, dressed in a pretty Sunday school dress. I’ve said it as a tween, swimming in hoodies and pajama pants. I’ve said it in a military uniform, and today, I say it with a blazer and no bra, and at least now you’re listening, even though many of you still don’t believe me.
It doesn’t matter what I was wearing. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing right now. What matters is that I never should have been sexually abused, assaulted, or raped, but I will be believed.
It’s the time for us survivors now. We won’t back down. We won’t let you shame us for our gender or our appearance or the way we survived: the fact that we are still here is a power that grows stronger with every day, and together we are here to say that we will be believed.