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The War Within

As America prepares to invade Iraq, female Air Force cadets wage their own battle.

"Every few days, he was hitting on me. He kept asking me to see a movie with him," Jessica says. "Women get hit on a lot at the academy, and we learn to take it."

But Kevin wouldn't back down. On the last night of the exercise, Jessica awoke at midnight to find him standing over her cot. The other girls in her tent were sleeping, and Kevin bent down and whispered that he needed to talk to her about something important.

In the moonlight, he led Jessica half a mile up a road to some mess tents. They sat down at a picnic table, and he started asking her questions, such as where she grew up. "I was wondering where this was going," she recalls. He moved closer and started touching her, she says, then pinned her down on the picnic table and raped her. "I just froze. It was like watching myself in a movie. I always thought I was the type of person that if something like this happened, the guy would leave with at least two teeth missing," Jessica says.

Instead, he walked her back to her tent. "It was like I was in a daze," she says. "I can't recall anything he said. I just wanted to crawl back in my cot and pretend it didn't happen."

When she woke up the next day, she had a splitting headache and didn't want to be left alone. As she and her tent mates were packing up, Kevin approached her and said something like, "Hey sweet thing," to which she "flipped out." Jessica says that another cadet noticed her reaction. "I'm a dark girl, and I must have turned green."

As soon as Jessica got back to her dorm, she took a shower. "I stayed in there a long time, like I couldn't get clean. And there went all my evidence, right down the drain."

Later that day, Kevin stopped by her room and again asked her to go to a movie with him. "I said, 'Do you realize what happened?'" Jessica recalls. "He even reached over and tried to kiss me, like we were dating. I smacked him with a ruler I had on my desk. I wanted to puke after he left."

Jessica tried to forget what had happened and move on. She didn't report the crime, didn't want to think about it at all. And she did what she could to avoid Kevin, including dropping out of the gospel choir they participated in. For a while, she did a pretty good job of convincing herself that everything was okay. But the mind sends out warning signs when there's trouble. Jessica started having nightmares, couldn't concentrate in class and even started running red lights. "I felt like I was spinning my wheels. I'd zone out in the middle of a test. My grades went down, and I had to go on academic probation. So I called my old counselor at the prep school and asked for help. He asked me if I'd been sexually assaulted." But she declined to confide in him or anyone else.

Her counselor figured Jessica had an anxiety disorder and helped her develop a "get-well plan" that included a change in diet and study habits. Her grades improved, and she started playing softball and doing aikido. But she was still irritable and difficult to get along with, and her friends were beginning to get annoyed.

On her birthday last February, her boyfriend, who was also a cadet at the academy, came to her room and accused her of giving him herpes. A shouting match ensued. "The whole hallway heard me," Jessica says. She told her boyfriend she'd been faithful and then broke down about the rape.

After the big fight, Jessica's roommate told her commanding officer that Jessica needed help; her behavior had been erratic, she had reportedly threatened to harm her roommates on several occasions, and she had even threatened to hit her boyfriend with a baseball bat. Jessica guesses that her friend also told her superior about the rape accusation. Without her knowledge, she says, Jessica's commanders started documenting her behavior and collecting statements from other girls in her squadron, as well as from a faculty member who had accused her of being disruptive. When she returned from spring break in April, Jessica was told to report to her group's commanding officer, who informed her that she was under a mental-health investigation and needed to see a psychologist.

Major Shifrin can't comment on the specifics of Jessica's case, but he explains that "generally -- not just at the academy, but Air Force-wide -- commanders are allowed to investigate actions of their subordinates."

Air Force psychologist Brian DeSantis met with Jessica four times, in an effort, he explained in an April 25, 2001, memo, to answer the following questions: "(1) Does C2C Brakey have a condition that could result to her being a threat to herself or others and (2) Does C2C Brakey have a psychological condition that could prevent her from being commissioned?" In his diagnostic report, DeSantis noted that Jessica "reports 'sexual rape' by male cadet, however refuses to discuss or report incident." DeSantis concluded that Brakey had a personality disorder with histrionic and narcissistic traits and recommended that she not be commissioned by the Air Force.

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