Book, advocacy give woman voice to fight sexual assault

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published April 6, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Melissa Davis signs copies of her book Silenced No More: The Courage of a Soldier — Life After Military Sexual Trauma on March 12 at the Fairfield Bay Library.

FAIRFIELD BAY — Just barely out of high school, Melissa Davis joined the Army when she turned 18 in 1986.

Only in her second phase of military training, just three months past her 18th birthday, she said she was raped by a male sergeant.

Now 45, Davis, who lives in Fairfield Bay, is finally talking about the assault and how she has suffered silently for many years.

“I will be silenced no more,” she said.

Writing under the pen name Stormie Dunn, Davis tells her story as a victim of military sexual trauma in the book Silenced No More: The Courage of a Soldier — Life After Military Sexual Trauma.

“I was married at the time,” Davis said as she began to tell her story.

She said she had just finished her basic combat training and was assigned to another duty station for her Advanced Individual Training. She said her husband was already in AIT at another duty station.

“We both had come from abusive homes and saw [joining the Army] as our only way out. We were the only ones in our families to ever have graduated from high school,” she said.

“We knew we could do better. We just didn’t know how until a recruiter visited our high school during our junior year,” Davis said. “We signed up for the Delayed Entry Program, meaning when we reached 18 and graduated high school, we could enlist. We graduated in May. He left for basic training in June, and I left in July.”

Davis said she had “two outstanding drill sergeants” for basic training. “They took me from a civilian to a soldier,” she said. “They never mistreated us. They never bullied us or were cruel to us. They were there to help you. No one likes or enjoys basic training, but these two gentlemen showed us what honor, courage, strength and loyalty are about.

“I loved the military,” she said.

Davis said that until she reached her AIT duty station, she believed that in the military, she had found a place where she belonged.

She had been at her AIT duty station “not even a week,” when her image of the Army was shattered, she said.

She said she and other soldiers were standing in line to receive their gear. Her platoon sergeant had gone into a building when she was called out of formation by another male sergeant.

“I was rather shaken when he asked me where I was from,” she said. “I replied, ‘Texas.’ He said he loved my Southern accent.”

Davis said her platoon sergeant returned from the building and yelled at her to get back in line.

“I did, and I never gave it another thought until four days later,” she said.

“I was lying in my bunk reading a letter from my husband,” she said. “A female enlisted came in with a note to report to the first sergeant’s office. Fear ran through me. Fear is instilled into you from day 1.

“I reported to the office. No one was there in the outer office. I knocked on the door and was told to enter. That first sergeant was the one who had called me out of formation earlier that day.”

Davis said she was told to report for special duty the next day, at 9 p.m.

“He said I was to report in PT (physical training) gear, and I was dismissed.”

She said she reported for the special duty as ordered.

“The room I reported to was just two doors down from my dorm room,” she said. “I knocked and knocked. There was no answer. I turned the doorknob and entered the dark room to turn on the light.

“I was grabbed by the arm and pulled into the room. I was pushed against the wall, and all the time he was raping me, he was telling me how he couldn’t get my voice out of his mind. It was then I knew who was in the room.

“It was there in that room during a thunderstorm that he raped me for the first time. I say for the first time; I was under his command for the next seven weeks and was raped repeatedly.”

Davis said the first sergeant told her if she told anyone about the rape, he would ruin her military career, as well as her husband’s, and that he would see to it that they never served on the same base.

“But the worst threat was that he would not promote me and hold me over for another eight weeks,” she said.

Davis said she did tell her husband about the rape.

“I told my husband,” she said solemnly. “He told me to keep quiet, that it was ‘just a few weeks out of the rest of our lives.’

“So I kept quiet,” she said. “I was an exemplary soldier.

“I served until my husband was killed by a drunk driver in 1990. I was six months pregnant and had a 2 1/2-year-old and got out.”

Davis said she never talked about the rapes again until 1990.

“I was having nightmares and suffering from extreme depression,” she said. “I spoke with the head of a women’s clinic at a Veterans [Affairs] hospital, and she told me she was sorry, that there were no services that she could offer me. She suggested I go to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, and maybe I could get support there.

“I didn’t drink. I’ve never drank,” Davis said. “I hit a wall. I thought, ‘Why tell my story? Nobody cares.’

“I didn’t speak about it again until September 2012.”

Davis tried to get on with her life. She still had nightmares and was depressed. She went into law enforcement and got a degree in criminal justice. She remarried 16 years ago and has three children, a stepson and three grandchildren.

In September 2009, Davis said she was seriously injured in a car accident. She broke her neck and has had multiple surgeries.

“From 2009 to 2012, I did not go out of the house except to doctor’s appointments, and my teenage son had to drive me there,” she said. “In September 2012, I was sitting in bed with a gun in my hand. There was a card on the table next to me with a 1-800 crisis number on it. I called it, and the woman who answered saved my life. She made me an appointment with a trauma specialist.

“I still deal with depression, but I am better. Until then, I did not realize that this rape, and holding it in all these years, was the cause of my depression. All I knew was that something was wrong with me.

“Writing this book has given me a voice. I will not be silenced anymore.”

Davis said she finally did report the rapes in 2012. She said the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command conducted an investigation. Davis said her CID investigator told her that CID agents had found “probable cause” that a sexual assault did exist and that a “founded report” was made.

“He (the purported rapist) was retired from the Army by then and was receiving full benefits,” she said. “They chose not to bring him out of retirement and put him back on active duty for a military trial.”

Davis said her CID investigator told her that documentation has been placed in the man’s military file that he is the “subject of a founded report incident” and that it is possible his Veterans Affairs benefits could be cut if, or when, a periodic review of those benefits is conducted.

Since her book came out in December 2013, Davis has had two book signings. The first one was at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, and the second one was March 12 at the Fairfield Bay Library. Her books are available from her website, www.silencednomoreasoldierscourage.com, from Author House Publishers and from local booksellers and online retailers.

Davis has also told her story before a federal advisory committee that is conducting an independent review of the military system’s handling of cases of adult sexual assault. She has been asked to come back to Washington, D.C., to testify again on May 5 and 6.

Davis said the human-rights organization Protect Our Defenders has asked her to join its advocacy group. According to information found on the group’s website, www.protectourdefenders.com, the organization honors, gives support to and gives voice to “the brave men and women in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members.”

Davis has also been asked to work with a sexual-assault team at the Little Rock Air Force Base to train advocates who will work with victims of military sexual trauma.

“I work for myself,” Davis said. “I am an advocate for everyone.”

Davis said she continues to support a bill that would place the reporting and decision making for cases of sexual assault, and other serious crimes that are punishable by one year or more, outside of the victim’s chain of command and into the hands of a trained military prosecutor.

Davis continues her road to recovery at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, and she wants to become more involved in community activities in Fairfield Bay.

“My goal in four years is to run for state representative,” she said. “I want to make a difference.”

Davis said she hopes to use the proceeds from the sale of her book to set up a 501(c) 3 organization to offer a retreat for victims of military sexual assault, which, she said, numbered more than 26,000 — male and female — in 2012.

“That was reported cases,” she said. “Of that number, 300 made it to the courts, and only 2 percent of those cases were prosecuted. Only a small percentage was punished seriously.”

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