In 2012, Air Force reservist Denyse Gordon was crowned Ms. Veteran America. Soon after she earned her title, she decided to dedicate her year as queen to talking about sexual abuse in the military, something she herself experienced.
Gordon first experienced harassment early in her career, from a high-ranking civilian in her squadron who touched her and spoke to her inappropriately. She told her superiors, who questioned her story and warned her that coming forward could affect the perpetrator’s retirement. She felt blamed and never filed a complaint.
Later in her career, a man in another branch of the military physically assaulted Gordon. “He was an officer, and I was enlisted,” she says. “So if you tell, you get in trouble, and I didn’t want to feel the scrutiny that I felt at my first base, so there was no way I was telling. There was no way.” So she buried it, stayed in the military and threw herself into her schoolwork, earning multiple degrees.