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Podcast: Recovering from Sexual Assault in the Military

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Podcast featuring Dr. Kandis Boyd WyattFaculty Member, Wallace E. Boston School of Business and
Brittany Powell, (former) servicemember

While a servicemember, Brittany Powell was sexually assaulted. In this episode, she talks to AMU professor Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt about her experience and what it was like to report this crime while in the military. Learn what she wants other victims of sexual assault to know, what has helped her recover from this trauma, and resources that can help others.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt. The goal of this podcast is to highlight our local heroes in our community. Today, we’re going to add to that very important discussion by talking about the importance of sharing your story, being vulnerable, and also advocating for other women.

So today I am so happy that our guest is Brittany Powell, who proudly served her country in the military. Now, a stay at home mom, she’s ready to tell her story of turmoil, of trepidation, of tragedy, and of triumph. So Brittany, welcome to the podcast and thank you for joining me.

Brittany Powell: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be talking with you today.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Thank you. The pleasure is all mine. We’ve seen in the news so many examples of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and I’m just glad that you’re here today to talk to us and help us just get a little more clarity on this subject. So can you start by telling us about yourself and why this topic is so dear to your heart?

Brittany Powell: Yeah, I can. I joined the military about eight years ago in 2013. After basic training and AIT, I went to Airborne School and during that time I was sexually assaulted by another servicemember. When I got to my first duty station after that had happened, it was about four months afterwards. And I finally decided that I wanted to report it and I wanted to take him to trial. And I went to trial and then I ended up winning my trial and he got out of the military and he was discharged and then he was sent to jail for a few years. So I ended up winning and that is what happened eight years ago.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Well, I’m glad you’re taking something from eight years ago and sharing it with our listeners today. So Brittany, can you start by talking about some of the challenges you encountered when trying to talk about sexual assault?

[Related: Reporting Sexual Assault in the Military Is Everyone’s Duty]

Brittany Powell: Yes. So when I would talk about it, I was looked down upon. People would say, “Why did you go out with a group of people that you don’t really know when you know the things that could happen?” Or even when I was in trial, one of the questions were, so there was a picture of me going around that I didn’t know about, and it was a picture of me on someone’s lap and he had his arm on my leg. And one of the questions was like, “Did you not realize that that guy had his arm on your leg? Why did you let that happen? Did you like that?” When you talk about sexual assault, it’s really looked down upon and they try and make the victim to blame. But it’s not our fault.

We didn’t ask for any it. That shouldn’t be something that goes across our head when we go out. We shouldn’t have to think about, “Oh, am I going to get raped tonight if I go out with these people?” That just shouldn’t be what it is. But nowadays that’s how people treat you. Like it’s your fault. Like what you wore was your fault, why you got raped.

And even when I was in the military, if people know about you having a sexual assault, people don’t really want to hang out with you. Luckily, I didn’t have that group of friends. I had awesome friends that were supportive, but there were people that didn’t want to hang out with me because they were afraid if they said one wrong thing that I was going to go and call SHARP on them. It’s really looked down upon when you try and talk about it.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I think it’s important for everyone listening to understand that everyone has their own story and every story is different. So Brittany, how do you help people individualize your story so that they can relate to what happened?I

Brittany Powell: Honestly, I don’t really feel like I need to individualize my story because, unfortunately, I feel like there’s already so many people that can relate to me that have been assaulted. I think the only difference in my story compared to somebody else’s is I’m just in my journey right now where I’m ready to talk about it and I’m ready to help others with it.

[Related: Arming Our Military Against Sexual Assault]

But we’re all survivors and we’re going at it. And our journeys are different. For me, it took me eight years. I’ve never gone public about my story. My family knows about it and my therapist knows about it, but I’ve never talked publicly about it.

So just doing this interview is super hard for me. But I think people can already relate. And I think that our steps are just a little bit different. Someone may not be ready to talk about it and others are. And there’s no wrong or right answer to your healing. We’re all going at our own pace.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. I think that’s important to help our listeners understand that everyone is different and everyone will address and adjust in her own way.

Brittany Powell: Right.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: What advice would you give to them if they were presented with this same situation?

Brittany Powell: I think the first thing I would want them to know is you’re not alone in this. And I know that’s such a simple answer, but it’s such an important realization. For me, when I was going through it, I really did feel alone. I didn’t have anyone who had gone through the same thing as I did. So it was really isolating.

And it wasn’t even until I started going to group therapy that I realized that I wasn’t alone. That there are so many people out there that have gone through it and they understood. They understood me and my feelings and that’s the biggest thing I want people to know is you’re not alone in your journey. And it helped, honestly, knowing that, later on helped me in my healing process that for once I wasn’t alone. So if there’s one thing I could tell someone that if someone could get out of this interview, “You’re not alone. You’re not alone in this.”

Another advice I would give is always have that one person that you completely trust and talk to them about what you’re feeling. Because if you don’t get it out some way, even if it’s writing, just write it down. Otherwise, you might have some unhealthy habits that you pick up. Like for me, I picked up drinking.

I drank a lot because I didn’t know how to get my emotions out. I didn’t know how to get my feelings out. I wasn’t really into writing at that time. And I didn’t have anyone that understood me. So I drank a lot.

So, I want everyone to know that they should have that one person that they can vent to and talk to anything about, because you need to get the emotions out. So I think those, honestly, those two things are such a huge, huge thing for me that I just want people to get out. That you’re not alone. And to always have one person that you can talk to about stuff.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. You definitely need someone to talk to for a situation like this.

Brittany Powell: Right.

[Related: Here’s What the Military Can Do to Address Its Sexual Assault Crisis]

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Thank you so much. So what training would be needed to make the public more aware of the importance of preventing sexual assault?

Brittany Powell: So I know in the workplaces and in the military they already do a bunch of training, but I think what they need to do is they need to take it more seriously. When you’re doing these trainings, don’t lightly talk about it. This is sexual harassment and rape. This is serious, serious stuff that people need to, when they train, they need to take it seriously. Not joking about it. Not trying to make it a lighthearted subject. It’s not a lighthearted subject.

Just do more and just be serious about it. I think a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it because it’s uncomfortable. But that’s when it needs to be talked about the most because of how uncomfortable it is. It needs to be talked about more and people need to take it just more seriously.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Thank you for that. So let’s talk about advocacy. Does every person possess the skills to be an advocate?

Brittany Powell: Of course, I think everyone does. And I think people feel like you need to have gone through something to be an advocate. But that’s not true. An advocate you just need to be,you need to be supportive and you need to believe in the subject.

Like for sexual assault, I had my friend in the military, her name is Diamond, and she was my advocate because she hadn’t gone through it, but she was still there for me. She still supported me. She did volunteer work with me through the SHARP program to try and spread awareness about it. She was just there for me. And that’s what an advocate is for, is to be there and to support the subjects. You don’t have to go through anything to be an advocate. You just have to be supportive.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. Like you said, support is what people are really looking for.

Brittany Powell: Yes.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So even after your sexual assault, how do you not become negative? How do you remain positive and still continue to be inspirational for other people?

Brittany Powell: Time. Time is what helped me because honestly in the beginning I was not inspirational. I was not motivational. I had so much hatred going through me. I was not this person that I am now back then.

Over time, honestly, with your healing process and who knows when that’ll be. For me, it took eight years, but for some people it might be longer. And that’s okay. Just know that over time you will get to that spot. You will be more positive about life. You will be more inspirational about life. But it’s not going to happen right away. It’s not an overnight thing. It doesn’t just happen. It took me a long time and a lot of work and honestly, a lot of therapy, group therapy, support from my family and my friends.

It took a lot, a lot of time for me to get there. So for anyone that’s feeling that they’re not going to get through it or they’re not very motivational right now, just know that that’s okay. Over time, you’re going to get there. So time is a huge thing for healing.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Yeah. I agree with you. I think time is what’s most important. And you mentioned it took you eight years to this point-

Brittany Powell: Yeah.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt:… to this conversation, to this podcast. So let’s talk about your next eight years. What does that look like? Do you have a vision or a goal, especially when it comes to helping others in this realm?

Brittany Powell: Well, yeah. Actually, so right now I’m in the process of being in a book by Christie Ruffino. She does these books called “Overcoming Mediocrity.” And I just wrote my story and turned it in to be published in one of her books.

So right now my next step is just getting my story out in the open and out in the public because my vision—I don’t know what’s going to happen down the line yet, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

But what I do know right now is with my story I want other women to know that they’re not alone and even men. I can’t talk for men because I’m a woman, but just for everyone to know that you’re not alone. There’s so many people out there that are going through or have already gone through what you’re going through. So just getting my story out in the public and letting them know that we’re all here for each other. That’s my biggest goal right now. So who knows what the future will hold, but that’s my right now.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Well, I think your right now it’s pretty awesome to not only talk about it in a podcast, but also to be featured in a book that’s about to be published. So like you said, just being transparent, being open, being vulnerable. That in itself is strength. And I thank you so much for talking about this today.

Brittany Powell: Thank you so much.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So as we start to wrap up, what are some resources that you’ve used or maybe you provided to help people either become an advocate for sexual assault [prevention] or like you said, to just get through sexual assault?

Brittany Powell: So the one that I used, it’s called SHARP. It’s a program in the Army, stands for Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention. That is what I used when I was assaulted and reporting it, that was my main resource.

But I know that there’s a lot of other resources out there. You can go to RAINN, R-A-I-N-N.org. That one’s another resource and there’s a national sexual assault hotline you can use. There’s so many different resources. But for military, the one that I used was the SHARP.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: Okay. Well, thank you for that. We have a large number of students that are a member of the military. So I’m so glad that you were able to provide resources both in and out of the military for our listeners.

Brittany Powell: Thank you.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: So Brittany, thank you for sharing your expertise and your perspective on this issue. And again, thank you for joining me for today’s episode.

Brittany Powell: Thank you so much for your time. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt: All right. And thank you to our listeners for joining us. Until our next podcast, please be well and be safe.

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Military University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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