In April 2017, I was raped.
And when you get raped, you blame yourself. Instantly. For being too trusting. For being there to begin with. For saying yes to hanging out. For not saying no loud enough. For not saying no enough times. For what you were wearing, even though you were wearing a long sleeve that showed no cleavage or midriff, pants that didn’t even show your ankles, and flats – not heels – to the club. For being social, for being friendly, for being too trusting. Everything.
And everything becomes your wounds. You’re wounded. You’re scarred. You’re tainted. You’re broken. And shattered. And bruised. And ugly. And dirty. And miserable. And unworthy. And helpless. And shameful. And trashy. And worthless.
And when you’re worthless, you don’t amount to anything. You can’t do anything. You can’t be anyone. You can’t have anything. You don’t deserve anything or anyone.
That is, unless you decide otherwise.
Less than a year after I was raped, I was one of the youngest of Saint Leo University’s Class of 2018, earning my Master’s of Business Administration with a concentration in Health Care Management. At 23 years old. With a 3.89 cumulative GPA. In an accelerated program of 1 year and 2 months.
A couple weeks before graduating with my Master’s degree, I made the firm decision to apply for the United States Air Force as a hopeful Health Care Administrator and Medical Service Corps Officer for the 2019 Academic Year.
By the end of March 2018, I am submitting my medical history to see if I qualify to apply for the program as the Air Force maintains very high standards for its applicants. And I openly provided and notated all of my records. Of course, I provided as much transparency and willingness to discuss my experience with rape, the visits I made to the doctor, the tests I took with my gynecologist, and the counseling sessions I – very proudly – sought out myself.
And to no one’s surprise, I am told that being raped can be what disqualifies me from the Air Force. That a decision made by someone else while I was in a vulnerable state could be what stands between me and my dream. My recruiter begins to delicately handle all of our conversations, apologizing every time he asks about the incident, stumbling upon his words every time he would try to develop some response to my story, just as anyone would because no one knows how to talk about rape, and no one knows how to treat a rape victim like a normal person.
That is, until you show them.
My recruiter then did the professional thing – as he should: consult you. You, a physician in the Air Force. More specifically, he consulted you to see if you believed – based on your professional experience – that I’d qualify because I’m a rape victim. You clearly err on the side of caution, stating that the military is a male-dominant environment and that there will be concerns that I will not be able to function, work, or live in that kind of a setting. You state that unless I were to “relive” the situation – and by that meaning that I get raped again – we cannot prove that I am emotionally and mentally stable. You state that there will be lots of concerns and questions. That you can only wish me luck because I’m a rape victim and it’s difficult to tell if I’d be considered, which only leads to the possibility that I just reconsider applying because serving in the military will likely worsen my stability, open any wounds or trauma that I didn’t even know where still there, or cause high levels of stress, PTSD, or an unresolved psychiatric disorder.
And I don’t hold anything against you, because you don’t know who I am. But if anything, I want to thank you. Because after you mentioned all this to my recruiter, I woke up to the reality that I wasn’t being treated like a potential candidate much less a potential leader for the United States Air Force, I was being treated as a rape victim and nothing more. Because of you, I stood up to my recruiter, thanked him for both of your concerns, and reassured him that I was not going down without a fight. I called him, and I told him that I am applying, that I am more than happy and willing to discuss my experiences – but that I am not quite sure if he is. I gave him an out. I told him that if he were at all uncomfortable about talking about rape and were to continue treating me like a victim, that he would need to direct me to another recruiter who would advocate for me as I do myself. I said, “Neither you nor the physician will be the reason I don’t apply and try to get in. You have seen my credentials. You know I am well qualified for this position. So either step up to the plate, or let me go on without you.”
And he came through for me.
And nearly two weeks ago, on August 30th, I received a phone call that changed my life. The public release from the selection board was expected for August 31st, and I received a text message from my recruiter that he was going online to see if he had early access to the selects. Immediately after I received this text message, I put my phone down, closed my eyes, and began to pray.
Lord, whether it be a yes or a no, let me be reminded that whatever You decide still remains my blessing.
And then the phone rang. And my recruiter uttered these words:
“Ma’am, congratulations. You are a civilian select for the United States Air Force Medical Service Corps for Academic Year 2019.”
And shortly after, he told me to breathe easy, to tell my family and my friends, and to celebrate myself.
And upon hanging up, I was in tears.
Because I did this. I made this happen. I chased my dream. And I didn’t let you, or anyone, or anything stop me. And I’m throwing my hands as high as I can, raising the roof and celebrating everything I am – the resilience, the true grit, and the fight I have in me that you just couldn’t see.
And I’m just getting started, baby. Just you wait.
Ria Gozon, one of 34 civilians across the nation to be selected as a USAF MSC Officer for 2019. Hope you don’t forget my name.