Military Sexual Assault Survivor: James
James Landrith is a survivor of sexual violence, former U.S. Marine, and long-time part of the RAINN team, including over 5,000 hours he has worked as a hotline support specialist and manager for the DoD Safe Helpline.
When he was 19 and on his first active duty assignment, James was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance who was not in the military. Because the perpetrator was a woman, he did not feel that he would be believed or taken seriously if he told anyone. Soon after the assault, he was deployed to the Gulf War. He served six years, rose to the rank of Sergeant, and was recognized for his service with a Navy Achievement Medal and a Navy Commendation Medal.
“I had to put it in a box and not think about it so I could keep going and fulfill my duties. I’m proud of my service. I had many good experiences along with some difficult ones. It has made me the person I am today.”
For 17 years, James did not tell anyone about the assault and struggled with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Several loved ones shared their own experiences of sexual violence with him, but he didn’t feel that he could identify as a survivor himself. He eventually opened up to a coworker about what happened to him, and she validated that it was wrong. “That’s when I finally decided to use the word. To call it what it was—rape. Even though I knew how it had hurt me, I had never given myself permission to label it as sexual violence. That’s why I never told anyone; as a man, I didn’t think I could be a survivor. I didn’t think I had the right to say it.”
James started seeing a therapist, and also disclosed the abuse to his wife, who was supportive. For many years, James felt that he was to blame for what happened, and that he should have done something differently to prevent the assault. He has now come to a place in his healing where he no longer blames himself. “I spent decades beating myself up over it. But I refuse to do that anymore.”
Over a decade ago, James started speaking out and publicly sharing his story to help raise awareness so other male survivors would not feel isolated in the way he did. Since then, he has experienced extensive victim-shaming online—something many survivors face. For James, it hasn’t come in the form of questions about what he was wearing, as it does for many female survivors, but instead in the form of comments like, ‘You’re a man, how could you have let this happen to you?’”
“If someone is unsupportive or victim blames you, remember; you can’t control their reactions. You can’t control whether they believe you or not. That’s on them. Once I stopped caring what other people thought, I was free.”
Because of the abuse, James has experienced panic attacks, flashbacks, and difficulties in many relationships in his life. He has found taking walks, spending time outdoors, practicing breathing exercises, meditation, and music to be helpful in grounding himself in the present moment and calming down when he begins to feel like he is re-experiencing traumatic memories.
As a survivor himself and after years as a hotline support specialist, James’ advice to other survivors who are considering disclosingabout an assault is to first think about what kind of response you are hoping to receive, and then to prepare for what your self-care plan is if the disclosure doesn’t go well.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer care what someone thinks unless they’re going to be supportive. But I had to do a lot of work to get to that point. I focus my anger and my energy on helping other survivors.”
James urges other survivors to do what is best for them in terms of reporting and interacting with law enforcement. “What happened to me, I couldn’t control. But each choice going forward after that is yours to make.” He also emphasizes how crucial it is that all law enforcement officers receive specialized training in trauma-informed response services.
Though James has dedicated his professional work to preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors, he emphasizes that there are many ways to get involved and help. The most important way to help is to be there for someone in your life who experienced sexual violence. In James’ experience, when most survivors reach out, the most important thing they need is for someone to just listen without judgement.
“You don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen just because someone else doesn’t want to recognize it as legitimate. You know the truth of what happened to you.”
If you are a member of the DoD community and have experienced sexual assault, know that you are not alone—and support is available. Safe Helpline is a 24/7 confidential crisis service specifically designed for survivors of sexual assault in the military. Safe Helpline is free, anonymous, and secure.