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In new book, veteran recounts Army's response to her sexual assault ordeal

Ryan Leigh Dostie

RYANLEIGHDOSTIE.COM

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: September 16, 2019

NEW LONDON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — When an Army investigator interviewed Ryan Leigh Dostie after she reported being raped by a fellow soldier, he kept asking her why she didn't say "no."

The assault happened in 2002 after a night out with friends. Dostie, a young Army linguist assigned to Fort Polk in Louisiana at the time, said she drank too much that night, but made the right decision to return to the barracks and go to sleep. She awoke to a male soldier sexually assaulting her in her bed.

During the interview with the investigator, Dostie said she'd told the soldier that she didn't know who he was or understand what was happening. "But you didn't say no," the investigator responded, and later, he said, "You understand that in order for sex to be rape, you have to have said no."

"He was adamant about having to say the word no. Being a linguist, I took him very literally," Dostie, 38, of Hamden, said during an interview last week. "There were many different ways I said no without using the word no."

The questioning by the investigator felt more like an interrogation, Dostie said, and that's when she realized that the Army didn't believe she'd been raped. No charges were brought against her alleged rapist.

She details the Army's handling of the case, and what it was like serving afterward, including a deployment to Iraq in 2003, in her book, "Formation: A Woman's Memoir of Stepping out of Line," published in June by Grand Central Publishing.

Dostie, who grew up in North Haven, joined the Army out of high school, a year before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a time when war was far from most Americans' minds. Even her Army recruiter said, "Who wants to go to war with America?"

She'd studied Japanese and hoped to build upon her language skills in the Army. But she also joined for the same reasons that many others do: adventure and money for college.

While she spent years wishing she hadn't reported being raped, Dostie said she never regretted joining the Army.

"I wouldn't be the person I am without the Army. I have a lot of great attributes from the military and I wouldn't give that up. I wouldn't have changed my decision to join," she said.

Dostie was honorably discharged in 2005.

More than 15 years after she was sexually assaulted, Dostie said the Army still has a perception of how a rape victim should act.

"When a rape victim doesn't fall into their expectations, they feel comfortable doubting them," she said.

She pointed to an Army appeals court, in June, overturning a conviction in a rape case at the U.S. Military Academy in which a male cadet sexually assaulted his female classmate in her sleeping bag during a field training.

"According to the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, her mistake was that she didn't scream for the attention of the rest of the unit sleeping nearby while she was assaulted. If she didn't yell, she must have wanted it. Rape victims must yell, cry, fight — says the Army that has trained us for years to be silent, to be strong, to be obedient," Dostie wrote in a July 22 op-ed in the New York Times.

A lot of women have reached out to Dostie with their own stories of being raped in the military. Many have thanked her for writing the book. Some have said they "feel understood," they "feel seen" after reading it.

"One woman said, 'I felt like you were in my head,'" Dostie said.

She said she has yet to hear from any men but knows there are male victims of rape too. Some of the women who've reached out have also detailed a mishandling of their cases by the military. One woman Dostie heard from loved where she worked and got along with her team. After she reported being raped, her team stopped talking to her. She had to leave and take a job that crippled her career.

"That sort of thing happens a lot," she said.

Dostie spent years thinking she didn't have anything to say about what had happened to her. She ultimately decided to write about it when she joined the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Southern Connecticut State University.

"I was dealing with some pretty bad PTSD symptoms, and I knew that writing has always been an outlet for me. It gives me a lot of optimism and hope," she said.

She said she deliberately wrote the book in the present tense.

"I'm not really sure if trauma or such momentous experiences ever can be past tense. I think these things always remain a little bit in the present," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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