Speak up, speak out against sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Haux
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
"I am not a victim of sexual assault, I am a survivor." One word can mean the difference between making the decision to get help, or allowing someone else's decision to dictate your wellbeing.

April is Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness month and to bring the issue to people's attention the Ramstein Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team invited Claire Russo to tell her story and answer questions in a small-group forum.

"I heard Claire Russo speak at an Army event last year and her message was powerful," said Carmen Schott, Ramstein Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. "We felt that it would be beneficial for our community to hear her story in a small-group format. It ensured a comfortable atmosphere for individuals to ask questions which helped foster open communication and small group discussion about the topic."

Claire Russo spoke at three small-group sessions and was able to answer a number of questions for those who attended.

"The definition of resilience means the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed or bent," said Claire Russo. "Resiliency is not a trait; it's a process that someone goes through during a traumatic situation."

Since age 11, Russo was fixated on joining the Marine Corps because she wanted to be held to the highest standards. When she went to college she joined the training there.

"My first assignment was in California," said Russo. "I had barely been there a month when the Marine Corps' birthday ball came up. I attended with my cousin, also an officer in the Marines, and he introduced me to several of his friends who were all pilots."

As the night went on, Russo could only remember bits and pieces of what had happened to her.

"I remember the painful things," recalled Russo. "I woke up in a hotel room naked and didn't really know where I was. The guy was lying in bed not even acknowledging me. When I finally got home I remember thinking, 'I am never going to tell anyone about this.'"

Sexual assault allegations weren't received very well by commanders, Russo recalled a fellow female officer trainee who reported a sexual assault during training. She was ridiculed and doubted by her superiors and ultimately removed from training. Russo wanted to keep it to herself until her cousin found out and reported the incident.

After years of battling with boards, judges and office scrutiny, Russo decided her time in the Marine Corps had to come to an end however, her fight with sexual assault wasn't yet over. Russo now goes around to different military instillations to raise awareness of this crime and encourage people to speak up.

"Seek help, know your resources and let people help you," said Russo during a small-group discussion. "You must help others as well. It's easy to say, 'I'm sorry this happened to you,' then walk away. We need to help each other."

Taking an active role in the aftermath of a sexual assault allows access to Air Force resources and if an unrestricted report is made, it can prevent an attacker from assaulting someone else.

"As a SARC and licensed clinical social worker, I feel it is crucial for community members to put a face to a name and to see firsthand how sexual assault victims are impacted," said Schott. "Hearing their stories helps others realize that this could be happen to anyone; our friend, sister, or brother."

There are resources available to help those affected by sexual assault. Contact the Sexual Assault Response coordinator. SARC main line: 480-7272, SARC hotline: 0637-147-7272 or SAPR on-call: 0172-821-4871.