Disclaimer: Names, rates and ranks have been changed.
I have a good friend/coworker, Summerville. A while ago she had told me this outrageous story of sexual harassment that occurred to her shortly after arriving at her first command. Summerville was a prior Engineer like myself, and I asked her if she would mind sharing her story. I recorded it, and besides minor editing for coherency and identity, I am sharing the full transcript with you all:
Feministsailor: I’m not going to be posting this on the blog, it will only be a transcript. So let’s see, for my own benefit, you told me this story about this MR1 when you first got on board the ship, right?
Summerville: Mmm-hmm, MR1.
FM: Right, so here, just hold this like so (the recorder) and tell your story.
SV: I was told by my Chief that I needed to sand and paint a A triple F station (AFF station), and in order to do that after I had gotten done sanding I needed a paint brush to paint the deck, and they told me I could find that in the HT’s shop.
I went down to the shop by myself, and I asked MR1 who was there, as a timid sailor straight out of boot camp for the paint brush, and he went on to tell me that in order to get a paintbrush I would have to sit in his lap.
I was appalled, and nervous at the same time, I thought he must have been joking, I don’t know, maybe it was a test on sexual harassment, I don’t know. I told him I wasn’t going to sit in his lap… and he proceeded to tell me I wasn’t going to get the paintbrush without sitting in his lap.
At that point I was… pissed… I lost all my military bearing and told him that I didn’t sit in anyone’s fucking lap but my husband’s. I think the worst part of all of it was that he had the gus to do it when there was somebody else in the room. He proceeded to not hand me the paint brush, and so as I was ready to leave… because I obviously wasn’t going to sit in his lap… he threw it across the room… almost as if I was a dog… I don’t know… it was pretty disrespectful. At that point I didn’t know whether it was a disrespect, like he wasn’t going to hand it to me? Or whether he wanted to see me bend over and pick it up. I proceeded to kick it towards the door, and I bent over the other way to pick it up and leave.
I was pretty emotional at that point. I was brand new to the Navy, nervous, it was a First Class, someone who is supposed to be well respected…
FM: What happened after?
SV: Well I first went to my Second Class friend, and was all up in tears and worried and scared…and then told them, and they ended up telling me that I needed to tell the Chief. I told the Chief, my chain of command did go and talk to them, I didn’t go on record for it because quite honestly we were underway, on a ship, confined, and I didn’t know… like I was gonna have to be working with this guy in close quarters for the next three months… so it’s not something I wanted… there’s nowhere else they could send him…
He kinda left me alone, but when I was on watches I was always scared and get late night watches I was always scared… he would end up showing up in weird places, like at the vending machines, he would be there at weird times in the night, just really creepy. Then you could tell he had been talking to other people, because, when I would come through the pways and the galley… people would be like “Oh don’t do anything around her, she’ll tell on you” as if he had told a different side of the story, because I know if they had been told the real side of the story it wouldn’t have been a reaction of that nature.
FM: That’s pretty fucking shitty.
SV: Yeah, yeah it was really messed up, and like I said I was new to the Navy…
FM: Yeah, that was your first ‘good’ experience with a First Class.
SM: First Class. That you’re supposed to really respect. And throughout boot camp they beat into your head that there’s supposed to be no sexual harrassment, it isn’t tolerated, this that and the other. And then it just, I mean the guy ended up later… I went off record with my statement later, I wanna say maybe about four months, tops, he had been in a room with two other girls in the shop and pulled up their shirts and was patting them on the stomach and they didn’t tolerate it at all, they went and told, they went on record. And then there was an uproar within the command asking for any other instances that had happened…Please come forward. There were over 20 females that came forward.
He ended up getting put off of our ship… but it was scary to see, at that point… and that’s why I am the way I am now, I don’t tolerate anything because to see 20 people come forward that means you don’t know the extent, I don’t know the extent of what else had happened, and they didn’t come forward. So can you imagine if he was still able to keep going further? He actually reached out and touched them. He was so bold to do it in front of someone else, to tell me to come sit in his lap in front of someone else, and he was serious, it was very serious.
FM: Do you think he was getting away with it because of his rank and that people were a little scared of him, didn’t know how to react?
SV: I think that yes, definitely, amongst a ship, and you know this, and I know this, you kinda get into groups, or cliques, and so forth and I guess he was there so long he was respected as well.
SV: I don’t know, you’re kinda trapped… you don’t wanna go against the grain ‘cuz you don’t know what’s gonna happen… I don’t know. The scariest thing to me was you could get thrown over the ship, or there was enough… it was a smart ship, it was a big enough ship, there were closed off places where you could have been raped. As a female you just… and the sad thing is that the females didn’t really stick together and unite… they…
FM: I understand. Same thing on my ship.
SV: They would turn against each other so you couldn’t even unite.
FM: And they were so easily turned against each other by the guys-
SV: Yep. And yeah. It was… horrible. But that’s why I have zero tolerance for it now. If I see anything then I’ll saying something because who knows what that can build to later. Who knows what that person can… like I said, if that MR1 was so brave to do that in the light… then what was he doing in the dark?
I’d like to thank ‘Summerville’ for sharing her story with us.