The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer

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Blumer's rape examination at Fort Gordon's Dwight D. Eisenhower hospital, con­ducted at her insistence, took six hours. Most of that time she sat huddled in a white gown, waiting for the technicians and doctor to arrive. Blumer wept with her swollen face in her hands. "I think you need a hug right now," a nurse told her, and Blumer gratefully accepted. Her whole body was in pain; she was in discomfort from an anal tear that would soon send her back to the hospital. And she was anxious over the delay, knowing there was a short window to preserve any evidence. The nurse echoed her concern: "The faster we can get the specimens, the faster it can be tested," she told Blumer. "Where are they?" When Blumer finally limped out of the hospital, it was with medications to prevent pregnancy and STDs that would leave her shaky and nauseated, and clutching a flier given to her by a base victim advocate. ZERO TOLERANCE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT, it read. SEXUAL ASSAULT IS A CRIME.

After three days of medical leave, ­Blumer headed back to work. On her way to morning muster she was stopped by a sailor she barely knew, who told her, "I overheard some people talking. They said you made up a rape to get out of a DUI?" Within her intel office – surrounded by people with whom she regularly socialized at happy hours and trivia nights at local bars – Blumer had already become a social leper. Behind her back, colleagues whispered she'd taken part in a drunken orgy and was crying rape to redeem herself.

"Everyone was laughing about it. People were saying she was a stupid whore, that she did something stupid, so she was trying to make up any excuse to get out of it," remembers former Petty Officer 3rd Class Harry William Clarke III, one of the few Fort Gordon friends who stood by Blumer. "She was a really good friend and a good colleague. But how people were treating her, it put a fucking stigma on her." And not just at Fort Gordon but throughout the close-knit intel community, whose phones were lighting up across the country. "Literally, the day she went back to work, we heard about it here," says former Petty Officer 3rd Class Jennifer Kinnaird-­Estrada, a linguist stationed at Blumer's previous command in San Antonio. "They were like, 'She's such a ho here, was she like that there?' Even the linguists in Maryland were calling us" – although Blumer had never been stationed there. "We were defending her here, but in Georgia they were all pointing fingers at her."

When Blumer, an open, bubbly young woman from Bakersfield, California, had enlisted five years earlier, her veteran stepdad had assured her, "They'll take care of you," and the devotion had been mutual. She loved the rigor and traditions of military life, buoyed by the feeling of being a part of something vast, historic and important. She'd risen quickly through the ranks to E-5, and at 23 had already traveled to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, with a reputation as an IT whiz who was often entrusted with work above her pay grade. "She was a model sailor," says former Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Gharst, who worked with Blumer for a time at Fort Gordon. "Several departmental leaders took a shine to her. They valued her."

Four years in, Blumer had already made up her mind that this would be her life's work. In 2008, she'd re-enlisted for another six years, and at the time of her rape report had just submitted an application, with her superiors' support, to join the officer corps, which would provide a college education and set her on the path to military leadership. Blumer had always considered herself well liked and respected, and couldn't believe anyone would doubt her word. She'd always done everything by the book. "If I was in the wrong, I would have taken the punishment," she says. Instead, "the people I considered friends were ignoring me. They were judging me."

In the same way that soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder have found themselves ostracized, Blumer had inadvertently violated the military's most pervasive code. "The culture of the military doesn't look kindly on people who are perceived as victims," says SWAN's ­Bhagwati. "You're taught to work through pain and difficulty, to put physical discomfort and mental weakness aside." Failure to grit your teeth and move on from personal problems isn't just a character flaw but a threat to the very stability of your unit, whose mission and cohesion are the highest priority, far above your petty needs. "You're supposed to be so tough," says former Marine Lt. Elle Helmer. "If you said, 'I have to go to medical,' they'd say, 'So-and-so's got sand in his clit, he's gotta go to medical, too!' " A memo posted by a Marine protocol officer on Facebook captures that sneering attitude: Titled the "Hurt Feelings Report," it asks complainants to check their reasons for filling out the form – "I am a pussy"; "I am a queer"; "I am a little bitch" – before asking for the name of "the 'Real Man' who hurt your sensitive little feelings."

That weakness is synonymous with femininity, and masculinity with strength, is instilled in troops from the get-go. Female recruits learn their place when, upon entry, they're classified by peers as being one of three categories: a bitch, a ho or a dyke. Harassment is embedded in the running cadences: "Don't let your dingle-dangle dangle in the sand/The best place for it's in a mama-san's hand." Pornography is everywhere. Servicewomen's bodies are openly ­evaluated, and their imagined sex lives – speculation about who's a "barracks whore" – are hot topics. In the Air Force, which has a tradition of fighter pilot songs, airmen circulate a songbook filled with ditties like "The S&M Man," a parody of "The Candy Man": "Who can take two ice picks, stick 'em in her ears/Ride her like a Harley while you fuck her in the rear." Against that permissive backdrop, it seems a natural outgrowth of the culture when men turn aggressive, as when a superior of former Marine Lance Cpl. Regina Vasquez told her, "I'll sign your paperwork if you give me head."

The constant harassment presents risks beyond mere degradation. There's a strong link between harassment and assault; one study found that troops are four times as likely to be raped if their supervisors tolerated harassment, and another found more than half of female military sexual-assault victims report that their assailant also harassed or stalked them. "Harassment paved the way to my assault," says former Marine Lt. Ariana Klay, who before her 2010 rape was called, among other insults, the omnipresent slur for women Marines (WM): Walking Mattress. Nonetheless, although stringent penalties exist for sexual harassment, few victims press charges, and many of those who try are dissuaded. When Klay tried to report harassment, her commander told her, "Deal with it." Vasquez threatened to report a leering Marine who slapped her ass, but a superior told her to consider her own career: "He was like, 'You'll be flagged. You want to be known as the person who cries wolf?' "  remembers Vasquez, who decided not to report the harassment, nor her tag-team rape by two Marines.

As a woman often confined to Navy ships – "like a big floating frat party" – Rebecca Blumer had seen her share of harassment. Her very first day aboard a ship, a superior looked her over before declaring, "So you're the blond girl everyone's been talking about." Blumer did her best to shrug it off and get on with her work. "You have to either ignore it, or become the most unliked person: 'Here comes the fun police,' " she says.

Despite her disastrous first day back on the job at Fort Gordon, Blumer assumed things would get better. She just had to let the investigation work itself out, and her good name would be restored. But the next morning, when she arrived at the ­office, Blumer was informed that her security clearance was being suspended until she was cleared of her DUI charge. No longer would she be responsible for monitoring, analyzing and ­quickly responding to intercepted Iraqi transmissions about the locations of roadside bombs, helping to protect lives abroad. Instead her commanding officer assigned her janitorial duties, picking up pine cones around the base and mowing lawns – "bitch work" – and had her ­escorted from the building by security.

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