Sexual Assault Prevention Advocate Speaks Out
By Lisa Ferdinando
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, April 3, 2014 Army Spc. Natasha Schuette wants victims of sexual abuse in the military to know they are not alone and that help is available.
Army Spc. Natasha Schuette, a sexual assault prevention specialist, speaks about her experiences as a victim of sexual assault and encourages all victims -- male and female -- to talk to someone about their assault. She spoke at a Women's History Month event at the Pentagon, March 31, 2014. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
She speaks from personal experience, sharing the ordeal she went through after being sexually assaulted by her drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C., in 2012.
"I just want to ... continue to encourage victims to come forward to change this culture that we have," she said. "I know I am one of the very few who has an actual conviction on their perpetrator."
The Defense Department honored Schuette with a Lifetime Achievement "Women of Character, Courage and Commitment" award and a Women's History Month certificate of appreciation during a March 31 ceremony at the Pentagon.
The Army is combating the culture of tolerance of sexual abuse, but it is a slow process, she said. It's important for victims to know there are avenues for them, she said, whether they want to pursue a conviction or not.
"You need to come forward or at least talk to somebody. That way you can have it off of your chest, because [otherwise] it's going to eat you alive," Schuette said in an interview after the ceremony.
Her chain of command didn't believe her when she reported the crime, Schuette said. Other drill sergeants retaliated against her, and she faced a discharge for having a “lack of integrity,” she said.
In talking with others in her company, she learned that other female trainees had been assaulted by the same male drill sergeant. Those women came forward. The drill sergeant was convicted on multiple counts, and is serving a four-year jail sentence for sexual assault.
"I had to write three congressional inquiries. I really fought for this conviction, and having the other girls stand beside me was what actually got him convicted," she said.
Being new to the military when the attack happened, Schuette said she was unsure who to report the crime to. The rank structure was unfamiliar; the basic training environment was intimidating. However, there was no question that she would report the assault and fight for what was right, she said.
Schuette said she found the strength to pursue the case from the other victims who came forward and stood beside her, and also from her family. Her dad provided counsel and helped her when "nobody would listen to me," she said.
"He said, 'You have two choices: you can stay in and fight it, or you can get out and not really have as much as a voice,'" Schuette said.
At the Pentagon ceremony, Schuette was recognized for demonstrating one of the finest Army values, personal courage, by coming forward to share her experience.
Her actions are credited with opening the door to the problems that exist in handling reported cases of sexual assault, and contributed to an increased effort by the Army to improve its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program.
The ceremony noted that her "courageous actions have had a profound impact on reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment by both male and female soldiers."
Schuette shared her story for a training video that was shown at a SHARP summit last year, hosted by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. Army leadership has made preventing sexual assault and effectively responding to reported cases a top priority.
Schuette, who is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., said she is planning on leaving the military. The uniform, she said, is "kind of a reminder for me of everything that's happened."
But, Schuette said she plans to continue to help victims of sexual assault in the military through speaking engagements with the SHARP program. She is pursuing her nursing degree and would like to work on an installation hospital and provide care to sexual assault victims.
"I want to encourage more people, not just females but males and females, to come forward and get these bad people in jail," she said, adding that Army values are not represented in those who commit sexual assault.