Broken laws, broken trust: the aftermath of sexual assault

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, our primary mission is victim-to-survivor care. It is easy to become engrossed in the victims' stories as we attempt to enable them on their journey to becoming a survivor. As a new Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, I was recently given the opportunity to attend a court martial at Lackland AFB for Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, who was accused of sexual misconduct against ten female basic trainees during his tenure as a basic Military Training Instructor. What we often forget to realize is the other half of the story, the countless other silent victims who were affected by Walker's actions.

Even though I am trained in this profession, the image I had in my mind was certainly not what I saw when I first met him in the courtroom. I did not expect to see someone who looked like they could do no wrong. I did not expect to see a polished young man in his mid-twenties dressed impeccably well in his service dress. His distress was so deeply etched into his face that he appeared far beyond his twenty six years of age. But far more troublesome to me, was his equally young wife, sitting dutifully and stoically behind him as victim after victim took the stand and graphically described the horrendous crimes Walker was accused of committing against them. I also did not anticipate seeing his sister and father, so distressed and heartbroken by Walker's actions that they struggled to sit in the courtroom listening to allegation after allegation about a boy they thought could do no wrong; a man who became the pride of their family. The most heart wrenching moment came during the sentencing phase as the defense argued for leniency from the jury. As Walker's defense described to the jury an impoverished childhood filled with obstacles that Walker overcame to become a top notch Airman, Walker's father began sobbing so hysterically that he was forced to rush out of the courtroom. Prior to these allegations, Walker had never been in any trouble with the military. Walker, seeing his father become so emotional, was also racked with sobs.

Worse to come, his two young boys, only four and seven, sat beside their mother and grandmother as Walker's twenty year sentence was read to the courtroom. While they had no idea what was going on, the stark realization hit me that these boys would now grow up without a father. Unfortunately, while Walker's actions are his alone to own and pay for, it was difficult to realize how far reaching his decisions affected the victims' lives and the lives of his single income family. Watching everyone though, gave a truly unique perspective on the importance of keeping a level head and understanding all aspects of a story.

Of the ten victims in this case, five were asked to testify in the sentencing phase. These women described the lasting effects the trauma had on their lives and the lives of their friends and family. Many of the women say they spend sleepless nights haunted by nightmares; others describe how their jobs are affected as they cannot stand to be alone in a room with a male. Three of the women described how they lost relationships due to these events; one of whom was engaged to be married. The trauma these women experienced also had a greater effect on the community as a whole. Not only were these women disillusioned with the Air Force, but all stated they would not encourage a loved one or friend to join the military for fear something like this would happen to them. All women stated an express desire to separate from the military as soon as they were able which potentially costs our military community valuable assets who otherwise would have made a tremendous difference in the future of our Air Force. If our own Airmen cannot have faith in our military, how can the country we are sworn to protect?

Attending this trial taught me that there are an untold number of lives touched by this crime. The phrase "hurts one, affects all" has new meaning to me after watching countless lives destroyed that week in July. As Airmen, we all need to uphold the core values and think about how our actions affect each other and every person not only in our lives, but in countless other lives as well. As an officer and SARC in the United States Air Force, I take every opportunity to stress the importance of the phrase, "hurts one, affects all," because sexual assault really does touch each and every person throughout our Air Force family.