From victim to survivor: Army CSM keynotes APG SHARP Expo

Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone shares his story of being victimized by and recovering from sexual assault with listeners during the APG SHARP Expo hosted by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, Sept. 21, 2017. | U.S. Army Photo by Conrad Johnson, RDECOM

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – According to national statistics, one in six males are sexually assaulted before age 18 and one in four females are sexually assaulted before age 18.

Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone, a guest speaker from the 187th Medical Battalion at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, addressed these statistics in his keynote address during the annual U.S. Army Sexual Harassment/ Assault Response & Prevention, or SHARP, Expo hosted by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or RDECOM, Sept. 21, 2017.

SHARP is the Army program aimed at preventing sexual assault and providing resources for victims, both military and civilian. SHARP’s services are primarily for the military but a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or SARC, can direct civilians to local, state or national resources for help.

The SHARP Expo serves to increase awareness of sexual assault for the entire APG community. Participants at the expo engaged in several activities that were designed to heighten sexual assault awareness.

Col. Ray Compton, RDECOM chief of staff, introduced Stone.

“He has had multiple assignments through his tours and multiple deployments in combat. That is not the reason he’s here. He’s here to tell us his story. Listen, understand, and imagine what a survivor goes through.”

Stone said his journey went from being a victim to becoming a survivor of sexual assault.

“When I was 15 years old a male teacher raped me,” Stone began.

He said that with both parents serving in the armed forces, he spent most of his time with his grandparents, specifically his grandfather. He recalled trips to Krispy Kreme every night and other activities they would do together.

In 1990, Stone’s grandfather passed away.

“Of course this left a hole in my heart and I was looking for a role model,” he said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone, 187th Medical Battalion, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas | Courtesy Photo

One year later, Stone began working at a Chinese restaurant where he met a man who would later sexually assault him. This man taught science at the local middle school and took an interest in Stone who said he made him feel “special.”

“He felt like a father figure. He genuinely listened and took interest in what I had to say about music, movies, books or life,” Stone said. “I took that to heart. This is a man I can look up to as I grow up.”

Stone became close to this man over the next year, before being sexually assaulted. In retrospect, Stone said he realizes the man was grooming him.

Grooming is establishing and later manipulating an emotional bond to lower inhibitions for any act of sexual assault. This is commonly seen with victims of human trafficking. Establishing this bond may include gifts, babysitting and even discussing sexual topics or watching pornography, normalizing what would otherwise be inappropriate behavior.

Stone said that first year, nothing unusual happened. Stone would visit the man’s house and they would hang out in his man cave and just talk.

“He was the father I wanted,” Stone said.

Everything changed one August morning in 1992 when the man told Stone that he had something to show him in the man cave where nothing inappropriate had ever happened.

“That morning, I don’t know if it was planned or out of opportunity, but he raped me,” Stone said, as the Expo audience sat in rapt attention.

Stone said he didn’t remember what the man did after the sexual assault, but he remembers every detail.

“I hear a lot of stories from survivors. During trauma, your brain goes into survival mode and you tend to lose details. I cannot say the same for me. I remember everything from the time he touched me, until the time he was finished,” he said, adding that he does not remember his 10-mile bike ride home.

Because society says those who can’t defend themselves are weak, Stone said, he kept his feelings to himself, accepted it and moved on.

He never spoke to the man again but received a letter from him a few days later. While never explicitly mentioning the sexual assault, Stone said that it clearly indicated that something inappropriate had happened between an adult and a minor. Stone read it once and threw it away. He said his mother found it in the trash and knew something was wrong.

When she confronted him, Stone said they argued and that was it. He said he was not about to admit anything to her.

“What 15-year-old boy is going to admit to his mother that he was raped by another man,” he said. “None.”

Soon after, Stone became depressed and wanted to get as far away from home as possible. Wanting a break from school, he joined the Army after graduation.

The Army kept him busy and he kept his professional and personal lives separate. He soldiered from the time the flag went up the pole until it came down in the evening. After Retreat, however, he described himself as “a scared little kid in the barracks,” who cried and cut himself to deal with what was going on inside.”

He kept this secret for 17 years.

In January 2010, Stone had a flashback that made him realize he needed help. He enrolled in a behavioral outpatient program. In a group of 15 civilians, with him the only military, Stone told his story in complete detail for the first time.

A month after finishing the program, he looked up the statute of limitations for statutory rape of a minor and found there isn’t one. Stone called the local police department, made a report and didn’t think much would happen. He was asked to give a written statement.

One week later, Stone received a call that the man had been arrested. The detective found a copy of the letter sent to Stone after the assault in the man’s teacher’s file. Stone’s mother had believed there was more to the letter and went to the school board. The man was fired.

The man pled out before public trial.

“So now I tell my story,” he said adding that typically, people always assume sexual assault is male-on-female.

With social stigmas and victim blaming, there are many male victims who never report a sexual assault, which covers the spectrum from touching to rape. Stone uses the word rape because it grabs attention.

“It’s hard. It’s hard and it makes you think,”

“I want to get my face out there because I want to show that as a senior NCO, seeking help did not end my career,” Stone said. “I speak during in-processing to mostly 18 or 19-year-old- kids. I don’t want these kids to go 17 years holding in a secret when they can get help now.

“Living with this should not be tolerated and if I can help one person, there’s hope they’ll pass it on.”

Local and national resources

For more information about SHARP programs or resources, or to report incidents, contact the APG SHARP Resource Center or resources listed below:

SHARP Resource Center APG 24 hour hotline: 410-322-7154, apgsharpresourcecenter@gmail.com, https://www.apg.army.mil /Toolbox/SHARP

SHARP DOD safe helpline: 1-877-995-5247, www.preventsexualassault.army.mil

Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC) 24-hour helpline, Harford County: 410-836-8430, www.sarc- maryland.org

Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) 24-hour helpline: 1-800-656-4673, https://www.rainn.org/

By Megan Paice, RDECOM