I talk often about the importance of finding and using your voice and how we must speak for those who cannot, but I understand how difficult it is to do so.
I understand intimately– empirically– how intimidation and power work to silence opposition and crush those who disrupt the status quo.
The day that I was assaulted on BUSH I told the Command Duty Officer (CDO) that I wanted to file a police report. I was shaking and crying and a mess, but resolute in my desire to press charges. When I returned to the Reactor Office, I was told that the Executive Officer (XO) — the number 2 person on a ship– was looking for me. When I went to his office I was surprised to find my attacker already there. They were in mid-conversation when I walked in. C’mon in Jada, the XO said, and close the door.
I sat across from the XO and two feet from my attacker. My hands were still shaking and I leaned as far away from the guy that I could get, not making eye contact.
This XO started out his speech to us, thusly:
Look guys, he said. I don’t want to hear about what happened down in the plant today. We’ll have an investigation to get to the facts, but I wanted to get you two together to tell you a story.
He talked for 20 minutes as my body continued to shake. He told us a meandering story about his own career. How as a young, enlisted man, he’d stayed behind to help a friend paint the Captain’s stateroom and how the CO saw his teamwork and went on to sign the XO’s paperwork to become a naval seal, changing his life and ultimately putting him in the seat before us. Wrapping up his story, he looked at both of us and said: you get where I’m coming from, right? Teamwork is an important part of our wardroom. And neither one of you acted like officers today. You’re both responsible for what happened today. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Do *you* understand what the XO was saying to me and my attacker in this moment. Do you understand the subtext here? Do you know what it’s like when the second in command tells you that your assault is just a matter of not getting along. That you bear an equal responsibility in someone else’s assault of you.
I’ll tell you that my attacker nodded enthusiastically at the XO’s morality tale. Yes sir, yes sir, You’re right, he said. They both turned to me for my acquiescence.
You know what I thought about in those moments?
My $1300 mortgage that is due on the 1st of every month. I thought about the bills I had to pay and the fact that food is a necessity. I thought about how a reputation as a troublemaker or a bad officer can follow you around for your entire career– how warning emails would always precede my arrival at any new command. I thought about my own desires to join a new community and submit a package that this man in front of me, this man who was telling me that I must also bear this responsibility, would have to review and approve. I thought about my attacker and how, though we were at that moment the same rank, he was a Department Head who worked directly with the CO, XO and my own boss, while I was only a PA. I thought about how my black-sounding name and black presenting self would guarantee me a long job hunt. More than anything else, I understood the pain and second-guessing that come with an investigation and how I would relive that assault with each retelling.
I thought about all of these things on that short space of time and then I opened my mouth and said:
If you don’t know what happened or want to know what happened the how can you be so sure that we were both responsible for it? What would you think if your daughter was assaulted at work and her boss brought both her and her assailant in to his office and told them that they were both responsible?”
The XO quickly ended this impromptu meeting and the investigation eventually found my assailant completely at fault for what happened that day.
Using your voice is never easy. It is never a painless decision no matter how right or just your cause. The right decision doesn’t always win out and speaking out is costly. But so is silence.
I can’t tell you what compelled me to speak that day — I just knew that I could no longer remain silent.