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My reason for becoming a SAPR victim advocate

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- This is my story about being an active bystander against sexual assault. My story begins in the winter of 2007 while I was studying abroad in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

I was 21 years old and traveling with 15 other students from my university. For most of us, this was our first experience outside of the country with minimal supervision, so there was a level of nervousness and excitement surrounding the group. We all knew that this was going to be one of those times in our lives that we were going to remember forever. The best part about the trip was that even though everyone came from different walks of life, we all got along extremely well. I believe that most of it had to do with the fact that we were excited to be on a warm tropical island away from the bitter cold of Virginia.

Even though we were there to do research work on tourism around the island, we definitely lived by the motto "work hard, play hard." As young college students, we weren't thinking about the dangers there even though we were briefed on them before we left the states and again when we arrived. Little did I know I would soon come to encounter some of those dangers firsthand.

The night of the incident started innocently enough. We decided to go to a local club our translator had recommended, assuring us that she never had a problem there. I wasn't worried about anything because we were in a large group and our translator said the area was safe, so what could really go wrong?

It was turning into a good night, everyone was drinking and having a good time mingling with the locals and enjoying the atmosphere. Some people had more to drink than others but that was nothing out of the ordinary. As the night went on, I noticed one local guy hitting on every single one of the ladies in our group. At the time, I didn't pay much attention to it as I was busy chatting with other people.

About an hour or two later when I was coming out of the restroom, I saw one of the girls in my group heading to the restroom by herself. It was obvious that she was drunk. I wasn't really sure why she was alone so, being the gentleman that I am, I decided to wait for her.

After about a minute or two of waiting, I saw the guy who was hitting on the girls at the bar walk up and try to enter the women's restroom. I thought maybe he was just drunk and didn't know what he was doing so I politely told him that he was at the wrong restroom and the men's restroom was the other way. He told me, in half broken English and half Spanish, "It's ok. I have something waiting on me in there." I knew that my friend was the only one in there so I said, "There is nothing waiting for you in there."

He tried to brush by me but I stood my ground and he stumbled backwards. We started arguing because he wanted to get past me and I wouldn't let him. The girl heard the commotion going on outside the door and came out of the restroom. The guy noticed, grabbed her by the arm and tried to force his way in the restroom with her. I pushed him away from her and he stumbled backwards once again.

The guy was steaming mad at this point and started yelling and screaming at me in Spanish. I'm not sure what he was saying but I knew he was not trying to be my friend. He then proceeded to pull out a knife with a blade about four to six inches long and started waving it at me like a mad man. When I saw this, my heart dropped and my mind instantly started thinking I was about to die.

I felt like I was going to die alone in a strange place with no family around me. That was the worst feeling that I have ever had in my life. As the guy was coming toward me with the knife, I prepared to battle for my life. As I prepared to dodge his attack, I suddenly saw two of the club bouncers bear hug him and slam him to the ground. Some of the other people in the group saw what was going on and wisely got help.

I was relieved because no one got hurt and I didn't have to test my fighting skills.

My feelings of relief and happiness would not be enjoyed for long, though. The group had decided that it was time to leave the club and go back to the hotel. On the ride back, I really hadn't had a chance to say anything to the girl who was assaulted because she was pretty drunk and she was with the other girls in the group, but I did notice that she was pretty shaken up, which was understandable. When we got back to the resort I decided to ask if she was okay. Shockingly, she proceeded to slap me in my face and tell me that it wasn't my business what she was doing or what she does and to stay out of her way.

This angered and frustrated me because I put my life in danger to do the right thing and she acted like it was an inconvenience to her. Everyone around me was telling me not to worry about it and she didn't mean it because she was drunk and upset.

The next morning, the girl didn't remember much of what went on that night but her friends told her about it. She came up to me and told me that she felt horrible about the things she said to me and she really did appreciate what I did. It made me feel better that she apologized and I didn't feel like my efforts went unrecognized.

That definitely was the craziest night of my life. I had never been put in a situation quite like that before. I learned a lot of things about myself that night. It's easy to say "what if" when talking about what you would do if you were ever put in a certain situation but when that time comes you never know what you are actually going to do.

I'm happy to know that when called into action, I was able to do the right thing no matter how dangerous it might have been. If I am ever put in that situation again, I won't hesitate to act the same way. A desire to help those in need is the reason I became a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response victim advocate.