It began with the phone ringing at 5 a.m., which is never a good time for a phone call.
It was my 18-year-old daughter sobbing, saying she was at the police station. I asked her what she had done (not my best parenting moment).
Then, she said she had been raped, and my heart stopped.
I told her that she was not a victim, and, by going to the police, she had taken her power back. I asked if she had been hurt as well, and she said no. She had to go because the police were going to take her to the hospital for a rape exam.
I wanted to wrap her in my arms, but she was in college at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., and I was in Springfield, Va., where we were stationed. My husband was TDY to Montgomery, Ala., so we were all spread out. I had to call my husband and let him know what had happened to our baby girl, a very hard thing for any dad to hear. He made arrangements to leave the conference he was attending, rent a car and drive to Tallahassee to help our daughter.
I talked to her several times that day and got most of the story from her. She had just started working at a coffee shop and bar across the street from the university. She had never been a waitress before, so she was making mistakes.
During her third day at work, her boss took “pity” and offered her a shot of alcohol to help her relax. Let me state again, she was only 18. She ended up drinking several shots during her shift and was pretty drunk by the time the bar closed.
Taking advantage, her boss raped her in a back room at the bar and then drove her home.
My daughter was distraught and didn’t know what to do. She went to a common room in her dorm that was empty and called her best friend, a boy who lived on the same floor of her dorm. He immediately rushed to her, and my daughter shared the whole story with him. Her friend urged her to report this to the police. They woke her roommates to let them know what had happened. My daughter just wanted to crawl into her bed and hide.
Her two roommates, while well-intentioned, hugged her and told her she didn’t have to go to the police.
But her best friend steadfastly insisted, “You have to go, and we will go with you and support you.”
That was a very long and hard day for my daughter. She called me to let me know what had happened. Children are often afraid to let their parents know about an assault, partly because they don’t want the parents to be disappointed in their behavior.
Just because my daughter drank too much doesn’t make her responsible for the rape.
She told the police her story; she went to the hospital and was thoroughly examined. She went back to her dorm room with her friends, and her dad met her there. We arranged for her to fly home with her father for four days. We all needed her home to take care of her and to see for ourselves that she was going to be okay. Then, my brave little girl returned to school and finished the semester.
The next year and a half was an emotional roller coaster. She did well in school initially but was an emotional wreck. She went to see a counselor, which helped her a lot.
However, she still had bad moments. In the beginning, she blamed herself. She felt guilty about drinking and losing control of the situation. My husband and I kept telling her we were proud of her and that she was smart and strong. It took her a long time to believe us. Eventually, she understood that what he did to her was wrong. “While I was stupid, he was criminal,” she told me.
At first, the legal process also contributed to her stress. She had to tell her account over and over again to the police, to the state attorney, to the counselor and in a deposition to the defense. After being scheduled four times, we finally went to trial after a year and a half. The trial lasted two days, and her attacker was found guilty and eventually sentenced to 15 years in jail.
After the trial was over, our beautiful, happy daughter was back! The stress of the legal process was worth it. It was a huge relief for her. Now, she has graduated college, has a career and a boyfriend she loves. She has been able to move past the events of five years ago, and lives a happy and fulfilled life.
In the years since this happened to my daughter, my eyes have been opened about how frequently assaults happen and, even more tragically, how frequently they are not reported. Women are ashamed, or afraid of not being believed, or not wanting to get someone into trouble. I know how hard it was for my daughter to tell anybody what had happened. She said, because she told her friend what happened, she had support to do what needed to be done. Once she had gone to the police, it was easier to tell us.
She told me that if she had not told anyone she would not have been able to get over it. After the rape first happened, she blamed herself. Her inner voice was telling her she was stupid, weak, wrong and bad. Between her friends, family and counselor, we were able to eventually drown out her negative inner voice and help her see herself as the strong, capable and smart woman that she is.
If someone you know tells you they were raped, help them report it to the proper authorities. If you are the loved one of someone who has been raped, support them, love them and help them realize that they are not victims. They can choose to take their power back by reporting what happened.
I think the main reason my daughter was able to heal from this is that she told someone.
Once she told her friend, he believed her. That gave her strength to tell her roommates; they believed her too. She was then, with her friends’ support, able to tell the police, and they believed her. She called her family, and we believed her. I believe that because the people that mattered to her believed her, she was able to take action against the attacker and heal from the rape.
If you have been raped, then tell someone you trust. You need love and support as you go through the process of reporting what happened.
My daughter felt guilty at first because she accepted so many drinks from her boss, but she eventually came to realize that he was at fault, because no one deserves to be raped. Ever.
For more information about reporting a sexual assault case, visit the Air Force Personnel Center’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator website.
(Editor’s note: Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs received permission from Brig. Gen. Michael and Sharon Kingsley’s daughter to publish her story.)
Photo: The woman depicted in this illustration isn’t the woman mentioned in this article. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)