By Merci McKinley

I cannot fathom what each and everyone of you must be feeling. Although, I too am a Military
Sexual Trauma survivor, I know trauma affects everyone differently. Your life was significantly altered by
the heinous acts of others. For some of you justice was denied, careers were derailed and personal
relationships suffered. You were forced into a cycle of retaliation and victimization. You lost sight of
who you’ve known yourself to be and walked a fine line of becoming voiceless. I too, know what this is
like because after my assault I suddenly did not know who Merci was. Everyday became a mental battle,
trying to reconcile the act of violation with determining how to move forward. I wondered if I could
even move forward given what I thought I had lost. It is not something “you just get over," but I am here
to tell you that each and everyone of you are survivors in your own right. How a person survives is
sometimes unique to themselves. However, it is something you survive with each second, minute and
hour of the day. Oftentimes we think surviving is a one size fits all method, but it is not because it will
always be unique to you.

For me, surviving was all about serving. I was sexually assaulted early on in my military career.
My recovery took a backseat to my career. I was in a cycle of trying to gain upward mobility and putting
the mission first. I listened to how others thought I should be feeling, I rarely acknowledged what my
own thoughts were trying to tell me. You are probably saying that is no way to live, and you are correct.
One day I realized I was doing a disservice to myself. I lost my hope in myself and in others and my trust
was compromised. I can recount my feelings, but they cannot be contained within this letter. I had to
stop putting on a façade for others and really acknowledge what the assaults had done to me. I say to
you, choose not to live like this any longer. Right now, it is important for me to let you know that you
have done nothing wrong. It is important to not second-guess yourself or blame yourself. It is time to
extinguish the internal flame of self-blame because your quality of life depends on it. During this time, it
is about what you owe yourself. You owe it to yourself to continue to give a healthy voice to what you
have endured. Sometimes a voice is not just vocal, but more so in the actions that you take.

It took me a long time to truly understand that sexual harassment and sexual assaults are about
power. I was sexually assaulted by a Soldier I knew, and by Soldiers I did not know at all. The power is in
how you rebuild your life long after the act has occurred. When you decide ‘this is the second I am going
to stop blaming myself,’ that is the second you reclaim your power. When you decide ‘I am going to vocalize what happened,’ that is the moment you reclaim your power. I gained my freedom when I started to believe that which is true: that we have done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of. We all are at different stages in our journey of recovery, healing and being survivors. Just because you are at a different stage does not mean you cannot continue to progress. How you fight and what you choose to fight with, is everything. Fight with a belief in yourself, your voice, and knowing you are a
survivor. The journey will never be easy. We did not choose to become victims, but we do choose to become survivors. When we make that choice, we have taken back our power.

Merci L. McKinley

Merci McKinley served in the U.S. Army for thirteen and half years before being medically retired from
service. She is a Veteran Advocate and Military Sexual Trauma Survivor. Merci is a member of the Service
Women’s Action Network and lends her experiences and voice to influence policies that assist survivors
of Military Sexual Trauma and Domestic Violence. She is the songwriter for Silent for Too Long, which is
an anthem for all survivors that commands respect and champions accountability.