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Why a Victim of Military Rape and Domestic Violence Is Speaking Out

It's time to do away with the taboos and stigmas of rape and domestic abuse.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Ljupco Smokovski

 
 
 
 

Marcel Edwards joined the U.S. Air Force in 1981 when she was 21, and served as a staff sergeant stationed at Pope Air Force Base in her home state of North Carolina. After a superior officer insisted on coming over to her house one day in 1989, her life was changed forever, she told AlterNet.

At the time she was a young mother who had fallen prey to domestic violence and was recently separated from her abusive husband. The male officer, who she hardly knew, gave her the impression he needed to talk to her about something important. With some hesitancy, she let him into her home. He started to pry into her personal life, asking her questions about what she did for sex and how she paid her bills. Edwards felt uncomfortable, but she answered in earnest, saying she went to her husband if she needed those things. Then, while Edwards’ two young daughters were just feet away, the man pinned her down on the living-room couch and raped her.

Today Edwards is a 52-year-old social worker. She said the attack she endured all those years ago continues to haunt her every day.

“I’m just now able to talk about it so, look how long that’s been,” she said, adding that years of therapy are the only reason she is able to speak out, or even use the word rape.

“I felt defective, I felt something was wrong with me, like I didn’t protect myself,” she said. “I kept blaming myself: Why did I let him in the house, why did I let him in my house? But through therapy I learned that I’m not a mind reader and ... I trusted him that he was coming to tell me something, not coming there to rape me.”

Edwards immediately reported the attack to the police. The local authorities coordinated their investigation with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI).

Edwards said OSI put her through emotional “torture,” by bringing her in for an interrogation every Friday evening for weeks where the interrogator would repeatedly accuse her of fabricating the incident. Investigators called her friends in for questioning. Whispers and gossip polluted the entire base against her. She said OSI eventually ordered her to take a lie detector test—which she passed—before the police would bring her attacker in on any charges. 

She has since been treated for depression and anxiety, and at one point even attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Valium. She said little things in daily life—like the smell of food—can set something off and take her back to that traumatic moment.

“When I go out to eat at restaurants sometimes I’m double-checking my food and having anxiety over food,” she said. “I didn’t realize until therapy, but that’s because he had smelled like food that night. You have triggers throughout your life, and it forever changes your life.”

Edwards’ perpetrator was arrested on sexual assault charges by the Fayetteville police, but the case was delayed over and over again. Edwards said she was never deposed for a trial, or called to testify. It was not until she read a recent article in the Grio that she found out what really happened with her case.

According to the Grio article, when “the case made it to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, charges against her perpetrator were reduced to 'misdemeanor assault on a female' and not a criminal sex-related charge. The DA’s office told the Grio that their investigation of the facts did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. The case was referred to the Dispute Resolution Center. In short, it was to be handled as a simple issue to be negotiated.”