NNOMY office invited Annette Gunderson to tell her story for our website and newsletter. She was referred by Tori Batemen of the Military Recruiter Abuse Hotline of the American Friends Service Committee who was contacted by Annette to seek some support. Tori then recommended that Annette contact NNOMY to tell her story which she did. https://afsc.org/hotline
It was the first time I had ever been in his apartment. The minute I walked into his room he forcibly kissed me and firmly grabbed my butt and breasts. I could feel fear bubbling up in my chest, I went into freeze and fawn survival mode. After drinking two ciders, the details get fuzzy. I can’t remember how my pants came off. But I remember him talking about how he owns a gun. I remember my heart dropping to my stomach. At that moment I knew I was willing to do anything I could to survive.
I recall making small talk although I was quick to change the subject. I remember him getting on top of me and he entered inside of me even though he knew I was terrified. My body went into shock. I told him I finished two minutes in, hoping he would stop. I was unfortunately wrong, he accused me of lying and forcibly went faster. I allowed myself to fall deep within my body, I disassociated while staring at the ceiling until he finished.
Harris rolled over without a word and went to sleep. I slept on the edge of his bed with my back facing him as silent tears streamed down my face. A piece of me was lost that night, a piece I have been unable to get back. I didn’t accept that he raped me until months later after sobbing to my friend Aubry while at the Summit high school parking lot in her car. I remember her words, she was able to finally get me to say, “I was raped”, I hadn’t heard myself say that out loud before. There is something about those three words, they hold a weight that sits on your chest and burns in your lungs. We skipped class so she could take care of me. Even then I was still deep into denial. I am still in contact with my friend today, and she is willing to testify as a witness on my behalf.
I reported Harris approximately eight months later. A fellow recruiter alongside Harris told me that Harris had been sexually harassing other recruits. He described Harris as weird and creepy. I trusted this recruiter when he confided in me about Harris’s perverted actions. I believed him, and my heart stopped. I started sobbing and told him what Harris did to me. I didn’t want this to happen to another recruit. I reported my assault while I was in the car on my way to MEPs to ship out to basic training. I was delayed about 1 year later after making this report.
Deschutes county police stepped in to handle the case because they had jurisdiction due to the fact, I was a minor at the time of the assault. If it weren’t for bend police taking care of me, I wouldn’t have seen any justice at all. (Thank you Bend, Oregon Police.) The military would’ve covered it up if they had full control over the case. NCIS worked with Bend police to investigate the crimes.
I eventually went to basic training after volunteering my privacy away and giving bend police my phone to download all the evidence. While working with NCIS they said I should reach out to Saving Grace before leaving for bootcamp, they explained it wouldn’t affect me getting into the Navy because my MST report was restricted at the time. I went to saving grace three times before shipping out, I told one of their therapists my story and how becoming a sailor was still my childhood dream despite what Harris did to me. She told me I deserved a purple heart. I can’t remember her name, but I remember her powerful words. She did her best to mentally warn me for the hell I was about to endure.
The day before finally shipping out to basic, I went to headquarters in Portland where I talked to a Master Chief, he urged me to not tell anyone about the recruiter abuse during training or they would send me home. He then showed me a video of the moment of truth so I wouldn’t be caught off guard during it. I complied out of fear, awaiting my flight out at MEPs.
I arrived at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes Naval station, North Chicago, IL. I snuck in lavender essential oil to help with stress. I would smell it at night before falling asleep to help calm me down. I would secretly let other recruits smell it too if they were sad. It was comforting to them.
I didn’t know then that I would later change my name to Lavender. Deep in my subconscious I think I already knew I had a purple heart.
During week one, we were given vaccines. We were briefly informed that some people could have seizures. A few minutes after being given vaccines, the male recruit next to me had seized. The shot I hated the most was the “peanut butter shot”. A group of 10-15 other female recruits lined up and were ordered to lean over a table and expose half of our glute to receive the shot. Some of the Hospital Corpsman were males, I didn’t want to bend over the table and expose myself to male for him to stab a long thick needle into my glute with no warning or consent. I would have preferred a female HM to administer this vaccine, of course this was never given as an option. The military did not tell us what was in the vaccines, just that they would prevent us from getting sick and that we might have adverse reactions. We were lab rats. Consent doesn’t matter when you are government property.
I was ill from all the vaccines I was given. I was about to pass out when a Recruit Division Commander (RDC) told me I would be put in handcuffs for disobeying a direct order during a workout. I remember hearing sirens of ambulances every day. I witnessed a fellow recruit collapse right in front of me, she was walking from the head (the bathroom) as I was standing in line waiting to talk to a priest. I asked her if she was okay, she looked ill and wasn’t walking properly. She then collapsed on the floor, as if she was having a seizure. Her eyes rolled in the back of her head. I helped her get to the floor safely. I began screaming “TRAINING TIME OUT!” Two female RDC’s heard me screaming for help. They ignored me and continued walking the other way, disregarding someone’s life. The other recruits in line started screaming with me, making it apparent there was something wrong. Another RDC heard us screaming from the other room down the hall. He was with a separate division and started sprinting to us. He called and waited for paramedics to arrive and told us to turn and face the wall to give some privacy. The priest arrives as the paramedics are leaving with the recruit in a gurney. The priest tells everyone in line to join the room to pray for the recruit.
I would grit my teeth often, to show no emotion while standing at attention with a thousand-yard fluoride stare. The water was cloudy and tasted like chemicals. Gritting my teeth was the only way to be an emotionless robot. At night I would grit my teeth in my sleep due to stress. My TMJ disorder became so out of hand I was unable to open my mouth to eat. I found myself at dental, at first the dentist didn’t believe that I couldn’t eat. I explained that I was a survivor of SA abuse at the hands of my recruiter. He then believed my pain and ordered x-rays and explained that if it worsened, I would need jaw surgery. I told him I wanted to pass basic. He gave me a numbing shot in my jaw to alleviate pain so I could eat. The military should have removed my wisdom teeth and didn’t. I got my wisdom teeth removed after discharging from the Navy due to them being impacted on my nerve causing TMJ disorder.
I was a couple days away from graduating, I completed firefighting training, I made it through the tear gas chamber. I kept repeating training because I couldn’t pass my run. When I first arrived at basic, I was a slow runner. Throughout the four months of basic training, I ran faster. I ended up injured, with severe shin splints and stress fracture on my right heel. I was told to keep running, or I wouldn’t graduate. Leaving me without access to a lawyer, SAPR so I kept pushing.
A female RDC, knew my story and assured me she would run beside me in support. I ran ahead of her as she advised me to do. Until I got to the finish line, I was seconds away from passing. I couldn’t imagine graduation, all that ran through my head was my military lawyer telling me she couldn’t help me. I couldn’t stay motivated with the abuse I endured, the sexual abuse from the recruiter was traumatizing. However, the Navy’s retaliation after reporting recruiter abuse was a more sadistic type of hell. Leading to an ongoing, daily battle with diagnosed complex PTSD. When I slowed down and started walking towards the finish line, I could hear the RDC shouting and cussing at me to run. My heart wasn’t in it anymore, so I walked to the finish line. I knew then that I was the flaw in a broken system. I couldn’t fix the policies that abused me while being in the military, I had to fight the system leaving my dream behind. The RDC wouldn’t look me in the eyes, I could feel her disappointment radiating off her. I felt ashamed, I knew I could have passed the run, even with my injuries. I was seconds away from beating it and graduating. Every time I would get close, alarms would go off in my head, acting as a warning against the abuse and gas lighting from the military. There was only a handful of RDC’s that cared about my situation, but like me they couldn’t stand up to the system. Some RDC’s believed I only joined the military for a disability check. One male RDC hated me. He knew of my report and didn’t believe me. He made me work harder and treated me differently because of it.
I remember needing to call my SAPR advocate to receive updates on the civil lawsuit at hand. I needed to go down to an office to make a phone call. I didn’t know how to address the Petty officer in the correct military lingo. He made me exit the office two times, while cussing me out. Stating “read the fucking sign, it tells you how to say it”. On the third try of reentering the room I began to cry. He then asked me in a firm tone, “why are you crying recruit?”. I began to sob, “I need to call my SAPR advocate” from there I began having a panic attack. From the shocked look on his face, he apologized, then allowed me to make a private call to SAPR. Most calls to SAPR consisted of me breaking down and getting updates on court proceedings. There should be a hand signal for RDC’s to be trained on, to let them know a recruit needs to talk to SAPR. No recruit should have to endure being screamed at while trying to ask for help. There should be trained therapists and legal counsel readily available, on hand at every basic training for recruiter abuse survivors like myself. I found myself seeking asylum from priests, as I had no one to turn to. One priest asked me “Do you regret what happened or feel ashamed because you could’ve prevented it.” He was victim blaming me, I then returned to training, being forced to comply with all orders or face jail time, leaving me emotionless robot and numb to the world.
I couldn’t walk anymore and needed crutches. My military lawyer explained to me in the middle of training over the phone that I didn’t qualify for sexual assault counseling, A SAPR advocate, or a military lawyer once discharging the Navy. Leaving me on my own with absolutely no support to navigate the injustice. However, the Navy gave Trace Oliver Harris legal aid and support.
I had a mental breakdown and cut myself at night in training. I wanted to die but I couldn’t find anything sharp enough to cut deeper. I ended up in a VA mental hospital where I was abused and stripped of my rights as a human being. I was being heavily drugged with Trazadone throughout the day. The meds made me disassociate all day at stare into space for hours. My reality was blurred. The day I asked my female licensed psychiatrist to switch meds because they made me feel loopy. She then threatened me, stating “I will get a court order to allow electric shock therapy if you do not follow my treatment plan.” Then the psychiatrist told me I needed to testify in the next room over facetime, at a grand jury hearing against the recruiter. I went into the next room and my lawyer told me the hearing was to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial. My psychiatrist walks by with two other females, and I scream at her that she is a fucking bitch.
Door closes and my lawyer hands me the phone and before I answer she told me I needed to remain calm and that she couldn’t stay in the room during my testimony. I answer the questions from the jury and told them I was on heavy medication and that it would be hard to remember certain events. I was smart enough to know to not say a word to the jury that I was in danger of electric shock therapy. I knew it was a tactic from the Navy because my psychiatrist was working directly with Captain Thor. I tried to sound as sane as possible even though I was testifying while inside a mental hospital.
After the call with the Jury, I asked to call my mom, I went into a separate room for privacy and pretended to call her after dialing 911, I told the operator as much as I could before nurses were screaming at me to get off the phone. I blocked the door with my body so they couldn’t get in so I could report to the operator that the Navy threatened me with electric shock therapy, my recruiter raped me, and the Navy was trying to silence me.
I then ran away with the phone waiting for police to arrive as I am running away from doctors with syringes, they were telling me to give them the phone or I would be restrained, drugged, and forcibly put asleep. Two officers arrive and I made the report. They told me they would file it. But they couldn’t help me because I am still on active duty and government property. After speaking to the police, the doctors gave me a choice, shot or pill. I chose the pill and knocked out.
The jury found enough evidence and it went to trial, when the Navy and Captain Thor found out the news, they agreed to send me on an immediate flight home from the hospital if I agreed to sign discharge papers stating I had borderline personality disorder and that was why I was medically separating. My psychiatrist told me “I can’t diagnose you with PTSD because the Navy doesn’t want to get sued. Your fastest way home is a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. You already had a waiver for depression going into the Navy so you can’t separate from the Navy with that discharge.” I signed it because my mental health was deteriorating from the two months I had spent in the hospital. During that time, I would scream at staff “What are my rights!” And asked repeatedly for a different psychiatrist. The hospital refused.
Later I was informed that if I had told the Jury about the electric shock therapy, it would’ve ended the trial because I wouldn’t have been “sound of mind” or mentally stable enough to withstand trial. The Navy tried to cover up the fuckery of a mess they created. And failed.
One month after discharge I tried killing myself with hypothermia in the Deschutes River.
Police found me with my families help by tracking my phone’s location. When the search and rescue team found me my body temperature was at 90 degrees. I went to another mental hospital and my family put me in Wilderness therapy. I was in wilderness therapy for a month and a half and failed it because I got pissed at the program and walked 20 miles in a random direction to go home. I started working with a therapist in bend for a year, then transferred to the program I am in now. I have been in therapy for about 5 years and counting. I turn 23 in August this year. Thank you Deschutes County YAT team for helping me battle my mental health issues and giving me hope.
To this day I still struggle with TMJ disorder, headaches, migraines, anxiety, depression, CPTSD, severe insomnia, flashbacks, nightmares, disassociation, paranoia, hypervigilance, nicotine addiction, and a history of multiple suicide attempts.
I also survive paycheck to paycheck and use Food stamps to keep a roof over my head.
I am an MST survivor, and I am the first woman in naval history as a recruiter abuse victim to have gone to basic training with an unrestricted report, The whole chain of command knew about my abuse, I would have weekly meetings with Captain Thor, he knew about my whole case and did yet did nothing to help change policies for recruits.
I have been seeking ways to ensure that the US military will never let this happen to another recruit, So I reached out to IG (Inspector General) office, which was suggested by Navy Recruiting command. In my initial conversations on their “hotline” I was told that they could do little to help me but that if I wanted to still make a report that I should sign an NDA (nondisclosure agreement) with them. This didn’t seem right, so I asked my civilian attorney to contact the investigator and find out why they were asking me to sign an NDA. My attorney was told by IG that completing the NDA was “optional” this turn of events did not give me any hope that IG or the US military would be willing to do anything to stop recruiter abuse or to even help me. The Navy continues to play games while recruits are suffering in silence.
I feel very isolated, I was unable to research recruiter abuse lawyers as they don’t exist. That makes me a whistleblower.
Dear United States Navy,
“SUCK MY FUCKING CLIT, Hooyah! WHERE IS YOUR HONOR, COURAGE, AND COMMITMENT?”
Sincerely, The real-life G.I Jane- Veteran Seaman Gunderson
I am a spiritual witch and a hippy 🧿🌿
Annette Gunderson- Lavender
- Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and military recruiting abuse survivor seeks redress, Courage to Resist, September 20, 2023
- UPDATE: Interview with Lavender Gunderson: End Recruitment Abuse and Support MST Survivors, Courage to Resist, September 18, 2023
- “Navy recruiter sentenced for coercing Bend high school student” By Garrett Andrews, The Bulletin, Bend Oregon
- Dead Men Don't Rape Tik Tok video
- Spotify Playlist: Survivor - Account Name: Lavendar Leto / Songs that kept me alive. I suffer daily with PTSD, MST due to recruiter abuse. Survived retaliation @U.S Navy. My G.I Jane, me too movement.
Support Veteran Seaman Gunderson: End Recruitment Abuse and MST!
Courage to Resist is seeking to raise $3000 for legal fees to assist Annette “Lavender” Gunderson
with a discharge upgrade from the BCNR (Board of Corrections of Naval Records) as well as
in providing counsel as she tells her story to Congress and the media.
Seek Assistance from the American Friends Service Committee if You Have Been Harassed or Abused by a Military Recruiter as a minor
Military recruiters work in schools and our communities to get young people to sign up for the military. They often target low-income students and students of color for enlistment. In some cases, military recruiters abuse their power. They harass recruits, lie about military service, make false promises, and even use or threaten violence.