Sexual assault survivor’s harrowing story and inspiring messages

Laura Hyten speaks with former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jasmine Sutton, 341st Missile Wing special victims counsel paralegal, at the Malmstrom Air Force Base resiliency center in Montana, Jan. 17, 2018. Mrs. Hyten is married to U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten (not pictured), commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). While there, Gen. and Mrs. Hyten met with base leaders and Airmen to thank them for their support to USSTRATCOM’s mission.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kiersten McCutchan)

Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jasmine Sutton, 341st Missile Wing special victims counsel paralegal, speaks with Laura Hyten at the Malmstrom Air Force Base resiliency center in Montana, Jan. 17, 2018. Mrs. Hyten is married to U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten (not pictured), commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). While there, Gen. and Mrs. Hyten met with base leaders and Airmen to thank them for their support to USSTRATCOM’s mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kiersten McCutchan)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE -- One of the personality traits that makes U.S. service members unique people in their jobs, and in the world, is the ability to face a serious and scary life situation, adapt to it and turn it into a victory.

Jasmine Sutton, former 341st Missile Wing Judge Advocate staff sergeant, was challenged in such a way during her time on active duty.

"I was raped by my supervisor," Sutton confessed.

Sutton has recently told her entire story publicly. Her words carry a harrowing story of fight and survival, but also inspiration.

Sutton's words teach that emotional wounds are real, and though people may feel and think they are alone when and after they suffer an emotional wound, they are not. Others have experienced something similar and also suffer, and there are people out there who can help with this kind of despair.

Sutton said she became overwhelmed by bad feelings at the time of the incident and as time went on. She said her depression, sadness and guilt consumed her to the point of absolute despair and she had a feeling like she didn't want to live anymore. She said she forgot she was a valuable person who was needed and made a difference in the world.

She said before she experienced her own personal trauma she thought that seeking help for emotional wounds carried a stigma.

Sutton said she now knows that seeking help is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Sutton said she sought help when it became self-evident she was in trouble. She said in her life that her survival instinct to reach out, cry out and find a way to heal, then taking self-action, made all the difference in who she has become.

Her story
In August 2010, Sutton heard the call to serve and she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

After completing basic training, Sutton arrived at her first duty station in 2011, excited and ready to begin her journey in her new career as a logistics readiness specialist.

She was happy when she was invited to one of her first social events. Like most people new to a station, she didn't know anyone so she accepted.

That party would change her life, she said, when at the party she was assaulted by her supervisor.

"There was a lot of drinking involved and I noticed that everyone was starting to leave," she said. "And that's when it all happened."

What followed, she said, was one of the most difficult periods of her life.

"It was difficult for multiple reasons," Sutton continued. "I blamed myself, a lot. I did that because, you know, I'm 25. I thought, 'I'm old enough to understand how to get out of situations.'"

"I blamed myself by asking myself, 'Why didn't you kick and scream? Why didn't you punch him? Why didn't you do something?' At that moment, all I could feel was emptiness," she revealed. "I was numb. I wasn't really there."

Sutton admitted, "I was really hard on myself. What made the situation even worse was that people saw him as this top Airman. They thought he was so great."

Also, Sutton said her supervisor's abuse of her didn't stop at the one incident at the party. Her supervisor began to harass her at work and during professional mentor-to-subordinate settings, and during feedback sessions and enlisted performance reports.

"He would slap me on the butt or rub my shoulders, or take me into the warehouse where nobody would see and just touch me in the workplace," she said.

"I could feel myself wanting to cry for help, but it just wouldn't come out for some reason," she said.

"It took a lot for me to open up, to express myself," Sutton said. "I internalize everything. I already blamed myself and thought I was at fault anyway so it was really hard for me to come forward."

Sutton said it wasn't until she mentioned her experience to one of her coworkers that she began to see the situation for what it actually was: a traumatic, abusive and scary series of ongoing events.

"I remember when I told my coworker about it, I was thinking that it wasn't a big deal. I didn't expect anything to happen. I think it was just a way of me getting it out and venting," she said.

"I was expecting her to tell me I was at fault," she said.

However, Sutton was surprised. What followed was a sequence of events Sutton would not have expected.

What she had prepared herself for was a reprimand, to be told she was in the wrong for talking about the situation. She expected she would be told that she could and should have personally prevented the assault.

After the word was out, Sutton's superintendent asked to speak with her.

"Instantly, my body just froze. Instantly, I just started panicking," she said. "I'll never forget that superintendent. He is awesome. He said, 'I heard something happened to you.'"

And Sutton said in that moment she lost her composure and began sobbing, sharing her anguish with the superintendent, who had compassion and empathy.

"He was fighting back tears," she said. "That showed me that he really cared about me."

"I was distraught," she said. "But we talked it through."

They came up with an action plan that would get Sutton help and seek a lawful judgment against her attacker.

Pursuing justice and healing
At the encouragement of the superintendent, Sutton approached the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to pursue justice.

An investigation was launched. Later that year, the man was brought to court.

"I had to point him out in a courtroom," she said. "That day, I had no idea where my strength came from, but I knew that if I didn't share what happened to me that it could potentially happen to someone else."

After, Sutton said that several people approached her and thanked her. She said they told her they were proud of her for coming forward and being brave because they knew the accused man had also assaulted other victims.

"That put a lot of pressure on me at first, but at the same time, I knew that this was something that I had to do for me," she said. "If I stayed numb, if I stayed silent, this loser was going to continue to do this to other people. There was no way in hell I was going to allow that to happen."

During the course of the investigation, Sutton said most of the interactions with other individuals were positive and supportive, however, there were a few instances where her original fears came to fruition.

"During the investigation, an acting first sergeant said to me, 'Well, maybe you shouldn't have been there.' And I was just like, are you serious? A senior noncommissioned officer basically said it was my fault."

"And that put me in a dark place," she said. "I was trying to put my faith in leadership. I was trying to understand what was happening, and for someone to do that to me was just ridiculous. It was baffling to me."

Justice came to be served. Sutton's rapist was reduced in rank, pay, received a dishonorable discharge and also had to register himself as a sex offender as a civilian.

Even though her attacker had been punished, Sutton said the sentencing wasn't as much of a relief as she had hoped it would be.

"I was glad I told my story, but at the same time, I was questioning myself again. Did I do the right thing, was it my fault, did I do something to cause what he did," she said. "And that stuck with me, for years."

In 2013, Sutton decided to cross train into the paralegal field.

"I felt there I could make a difference," Sutton said.

Sutton's new job hurts and helps her
Unfortunately, Sutton's follow on assignment was at the same base where her trial had been conducted

"It was pretty weird," she recalled.

During that time Sutton came across her casefile at work and was triggered. She had an anxiety attack due to her post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

"I just couldn't shake that," she said.

She tried, though. "I sang in a choir," she said. "I lost myself in art and music."

"I wasn't really getting help for it," she admitted. And while working as a paralegal, she started seeing more rape cases and more assault cases.

"Everything started coming back to me," she said. "I thought I was battling it OK on my own and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it, but on the inside I was a wreck. I wasn't OK. I don't know why I kept telling myself that I was OK."

"It actually took me becoming a special victims paralegal to realize that it was affecting me more than I thought," she said.

"In the military, there is that stigma against mental health that going to mental health is going to ruin your career," Sutton said. "I wanted to be in charge of my career."

But, Sutton admitted to herself, she was in a situation where she couldn't be in charge of anything.

Enough is enough
Sutton began really looking into mental health services after she felt suicidal, and said to herself, "Enough is enough."

Sutton said she struggled trying to decide whether to continue suffering on her own and try to make the best of it or to take the risk and seek mental health services--but she had already realized things were getting worse dealing with these problems alone.

"I decided to go to mental health, and I can honestly say that it was the best thing to ever happen to me," she said.

"I'm not saying this because I'm trying to promote it or someone is putting me up to this, it's because I contemplated suicide," she said. "I was depressed. I was unhappy. I was withdrawn from people. And that's not a good thing."

I think it is vital for victims to focus on where they want to go and where they want to be in life, not stay suffering, she said, sometimes people need help.

"I wanted to be successful, to be happy, to be loved and to be an inspiration to others," she said.

"That's how I decided to take charge of my life," she said. "To take power back. To not be a victim of a situation and circumstance. To inspire others and to live my life to the best of my abilities."

I know other people can find the courage to get help, too, she added.

"It was a tough experience going into mental health, but it was the best experience," Sutton said. "I put in the work to get better. It was scary at first, and it was very uncomfortable, but I knew that to go higher in life, I had to do some uncomfortable things."

"I know I have great potential," she said. "I know I'm going places."

If you would like to hear Sutton tell her own story in her own words, please see the 341st Missile Wing public affairs video at 


If at any time you, or anyone you know, feel at risk for hurting yourself or others, there are numbers to call.

For help resources, please see below:
Chaplain (non-duty hours) -- (406) 731-3801
Voice of Hope, Great Falls -- (406) 453-4357
Malmstrom AFB Mental Health Clinic -- (406) 731-4451
National Suicide Prevention Hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Military One Source 24-7 -- 1-800-342-9647
Malmstrom AFB Military Child Life Consultant -- (406) 224-3813 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Malmstrom AFB Military Family Life Consultant -- (406) 750-8481/8061
Malmstrom AFB Sexual Assault Program Coordinator -- (406) 731-4225
Malmstrom AFB Family Advocacy -- (406) 731-2161
Malmstrom AFB Violence Prevention -- (406) 731-1499
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