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It's not just service men and women traumatized by Military Sexual Assault. Their families, too, pay the price

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Kimberly Baxter was raped while serving in the Navy. She never learned what happened to her attacker. - STL-PHOTO
  • STL-PHOTO
  • Kimberly Baxter was raped while serving in the Navy. She never learned what happened to her attacker.

Wells wasn't alone in keeping the story of her sexual assault from her children before finally deciding something had to give. Kimberly Baxter held onto her secret for more than twenty years, even though it gnawed at her relentlessly.

But then, two years ago, while going through a painful divorce, she decided to share with her oldest two children the details of the central event of her life — a trauma that she says has shaped and guided every day since.

So one night, Baxter, 42, who lives just outside Belleville, sat down with her teenage son and daughter.

Finally, after so many years of waiting, Baxter disclosed that she had been raped in the basement stairwell of a Navy recruiting center in downtown Philadelphia.

At the time, in March 1994, Baxter had just graduated from basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, near Chicago. She was assigned to Philadelphia for temporary recruiting duty. On one of the first mornings of her new assignment, a security guard asked to give her a tour of the building.

"At that point I figured he was just being nice," she says. "I was in my dress blue uniform. Once down there he assaulted me. He tore my uniform. I remember just trying to get away from him. He kept grabbing me."

Baxter reported the attack to her then-boyfriend, a Navy non-commissioned officer, and the security guard was quickly arrested by police.

But police never interviewed her. Baxter never learned what happened to her attacker. She strongly doubts her rapist was ever brought to justice.

Meanwhile, intense flashbacks stemming from the attack made sleep difficult. Baxter found it almost impossible to get through her Navy training program. Her military career was over before it had barely begun.

Today Baxter rarely leaves her house in a subdivision near Belleville. She has received 100 percent disability from the VA. Now off the antidepressant medications she was prescribed for post-traumatic stress disorder, she receives regular counseling for her PTSD. It's helped a lot, she says.

Still, the sexual assault from nearly a quarter-century ago continues to play out in her head. She feels dirty, and overwhelmed by a sense of violation. Often she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds herself crying.

"I think about it pretty much daily. There are things that trigger it more," Baxter says. "Going somewhere by myself. Stairwells, basements, things like that."

The attack even affects the therapy she receives.

"I have had a really hard time with my therapist," she said. "I always told her if I had been smarter, had I done something different..."

For Lauren Baxter, sixteen, learning about her mother's rape helped put into perspective the anxiety and depression her mother has manifested for as long as she can remember. The revelation helps explain so much of their shared lives together — the constant anxiety, the hyper-vigilance, the fears of going out into the world.

"Now it makes sense," says Lauren, the middle child between two brothers, ages twenty and ten. "I want to try to help her, but it's hard."

Lauren, too, finds it difficult to be around crowds. "Sometimes I get freaked out when there are so many people around," she says.

As for the trauma that continues to plague her mother, "I hope it can be fixed," she says. "I hope she can feel safer."

Arlene Parker and her daughter Akilah Haynes have finally reconciled. A lot of healing had to happen first, they say, which was predicated on the acknowledgement of past wrongs. For instance, Parker acknowledged that she might have pawned the TV Akilah made in middle school, even though she can't really remember the incident.

Parker says she's in a much better place these days. Sober for years, she's found a lawyer to represent her VA claims for PTSD and sexual assault, which would allow her to collect financial compensation for the psychological harm she suffered as a result of the abuse. She hopes that she and her daughter can buy a house in Florissant and move in together.

Parker is still angry at what happened to her in the Air Force. But the anger is controllable now, locked away, because she's figured out, she says, what matters more.

"Family is the most important thing," she says.

Mike Fitzgerald is a freelance writer who lives near St. Louis. You can contact him at msfitzgerald2006@gmail.com.

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