In 2003, seven U.S. Air Force Academy cadets went public with reports of rape and the consequent retaliation that followed.
Leadville local Lynn Hall was an Air Force cadet at the time.
In a 2017 New York Times op-ed titled “What Happens When a Rape Goes Unreported,” Hall recounts a lunch conversation between nine male cadets.
“What do you think of those whores who are tarnishing our academy?” a senior cadet asked.
“Sir, I think a woman who gets herself raped isn’t strong enough to defend herself, let alone the country, and shouldn’t be in the military,” another answered.
Hall herself was raped at the academy. She was 18 years old and never reported for fear of backlash.
Hall faced a myriad of medical issues after the rape and never graduated. Her childhood dream of becoming a pilot remains unfulfilled.
Years later, Hall is now a published writer and staunch advocate for survivors of sexual assault in the military.
“My peers exposed me to this realization that what happened to me was not just about me,” Hall told the Herald. “In writing my memoir, I wanted to shine light on a culture that allows sexual violence to happen.”
“Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet’s Story of Rape and Resilience,” Hall’s 2017 memoir, is the story of her rape and subsequent experiences navigating a victim-blaming culture.
After the memoir was published, current Air Force cadets reached out to Hall. They wanted to make their own sexual assaults public.
Throughout 2017, Hall worked as a liaison of sorts. She helped the women find an appropriate media outlet, educated CBS journalists on the academy’s culture and participated in on-camera interviews.
The story, which aired on “CBS This Morning” last winter, follows four cadets’ accounts of sexual assault and the retaliation that followed.
Yet the women that went public last year represent only a fraction of the academy’s recent victims. Over the past 10 years, there have been 287 reports of sexual assault to the Air Force Academy.
In September, CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell and her producer Jennifer Janisch won an Emmy for outstanding investigative reporting on the story.
“It was like they experienced two assaults. First being the actual sexual assault and then lack of support, lack of belief and the further harassment that resulted,” O’Donnell said in the segment.
Since the story broke, the academy has enacted policy change. One such policy prevents victims who were breaking academy rules at the time of assault from getting in trouble for minor offenses.
Hall moved to Leadville one year ago. Shortly after she arrived, the Fernando Mendoza scandal began to unfold.
As three former female Lake County Sheriff’s Office employees went public with sexual harassment allegations against Mendoza, Hall said she noticed the striking parallels between her experiences in the Air Force and what the women were dealing with at LCSO.
“Power structures are similar whether talking about the military or law enforcement,” Hall said. “Both cultures are extremely masculine normative and regard strength as the opposite of victimization.”
Hall wanted to help support victims of sexual violence and harassment in her own community and so, she joined the Advocates of Lake County’s Board of Directors.
“I’m excited to be part of a group of women that are so passionate about the cause,” Hall told the Herald. “It strengthens me.”
After Hall’s own assault, it was a victim’s advocate at the Air Force Academy who helped her move from a place of self-blame to empowerment.
“Without a group like the Advocates,” Hall said, “it would be next to impossible for survivors to find their voice.”
“I’m so proud of these women (the former LCSO employees),” Hall told the Herald. “We need that kind of courage. Unless people are held responsible, the cycle continues.”