TESTIMONIAL: Feeling like a gazelle in a lion’s den


Emily Rabasto - The State Hornet

Ashton Byers

Like a pack of lions, I was your prey outnumbered 2-1. As I tried to leave, you told me I walked into it, I knew what I was getting into. You had your own agenda, as you threw me down onto the bed.

The word “no” no longer mattered as I sought to fight you off. In an attempt to subdue me, you resorted to biting my inner thighs, as if the pressure of your body weren’t enough digging into me. In order for me to put up less of a fight, you instructed your friend to turn off the light.

Now that it’s pitch black, it’s easier to have your way with me as it became increasingly harder for me to see. Once you finished, I saw a small ray of light coming from the hall of the door you just opened. Seeing you leave, I was overcome with a sense of relief hoping the nightmare had ended but was horribly wrong.

Lions travel in packs because it’s easier to catch their prey. After you left, your friend who had been watching from a distance got behind me and grabbed my neck. As he began choking me, I wondered if this was going to be something I would survive.

He finished on my back, got a towel and left leaving me in a state of shock. I saw light once again, as my “friend,” whom I thought had gone home walks out of the master bathroom with another man. She asked if I was OK, as I searched for my clothes.

I couldn’t believe she didn’t try to help me, as I was screaming out in pain and fear. I knew how the military would twist it, so I didn’t initially report it. Someone else came forward a week later, and I disclosed what had happened.

All the evidence was there, but in the moment of shock I was in, reporting it was the last thing on my mind. To this day, I regret how I was too paralyzed with fear to walk to the hospital and get a rape kit done. However, I still felt compelled to move forward with the case and take it to trial.

For fifteen months, I was faced with reliving and recounting the events to investigators, and members of the Military Justice Department. I was haunted at night with flashbacks, and retaliated against by my coworkers. This occured in the same squadron, which made matters even worse.

I had restraining orders filed against the two men, and had to work in a different section while the investigation was pending. As a victim of sexual assault I was looked down upon, having to work twice as hard as everyone else. I was outcasted, slut shamed and isolated from what was supposed to be my Air Force family.

Sides were chosen, and everyone sided with the perpetrators. The defense made it out like I was trying to destroy their lives, when in reality they had destroyed mine. I was stalked and threatened by people trying to intimidate me from going to trial.

Despite all this I kept pushing, wanting justice for what they had done. In the end, it came down to the government deciding I didn’t have enough evidence to move forward to trial. I signed a form saying I would let the government decide where the case should go.

What resulted was the government decided to drop it, stating it was more of a “he said, she said case,” with not enough evidence to move forward. Only three people know what truly happened that night, I as the victim and the two perpetrators. They weren’t talking, and both had lawyers represent them in the matter.

I felt myself going back to work numb, just going through the movements. I felt dead inside, isolated and worse than before. Rumors had spread that it must not have happened because the case got dropped.

Hearing that I had lied about something that was traumatic to me, was the most painful of them all. At this point, I decided it was time to separate. I began shifting my focus to my kids, for they were the only thing that kept me going.

I was going through a lot. A divorce, and a coworker committing suicide, with whom I had worked with just eight hours prior. I was in a very vulnerable state, and a female coworker informed me of this the night I was assaulted.

She compared me to a gazelle in a lion’s den, almost like she could sense what was about to happen. I was there with two girlfriends but had gotten separated by the end of the night. When I saw my friend come out of the bathroom that night, I confronted her about it in an email.

She implied that she thought I wanted it, and didn’t think to stop it. Like most cases, the witnesses statements weren’t very credible without corroborating evidence to back it up with. As if victim blaming weren’t bad enough in society, a victim of sexual assault struggles with blaming themselves.

I avoid certain places that might trigger a memory, and the flashbacks and nightmares come and go in waves. My anxiety level was extremely high after I first separated from the military. I was vigilant, and on guard.

I struggled with relationships, making friends and trusting people. While school has been a nice outlet, I channel my energy into my kids and working out. My kids are the reason I’ve kept it together through adversity, and working out has given me the physical stamina to do so.

I tucked my trauma away for so long, until I realized it’s never something that truly goes away. The only way someone can begin to heal, is once they face it. You don’t know how strong you are, until being strong is all you have left.