CALLIE RIOS - U.S. ARMY
For Callie Rios, the military represented a bond—a brotherhood, a sisterhood. But after she was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier at Fort Knox, that trust was shattered.
“When I went to report it, of course the military police didn’t take a report, they just called the commander and said to deal with this on the unit level,” said Rios. “It felt like it was me against the unit. It made me feel really isolated and really alone.”
Like so many other military sexual assault survivors, Rios felt unable to talk about her experience.
“I don’t think I really talked about it for several years,” Rios recalled. “Getting to the point, actually saying that this happened, that was the biggest hurdle."
It was a female chaplain who ultimately provided Rios some support, and later helped inspire her to channel the trauma she suffered in the Army into supporting her fellow veterans.
“I came back out of it, and now I’m ready to help other women who were in the same situation as I was,” said Rios.
As an active in DAV member in Texas, she found herself stepping in to assist in the VA claims filing process for other women veterans who have also experienced military sexual trauma.
“We had an MST claim, but…she didn’t want to discuss the issue and she tried to avoid it,” said Rios. “My commander suggested I go and talk to her, have a one-on-one conversation, and by telling my story she finally felt that it was safe. Just having a woman there to talk about an MST claim is easier that having a male there sometimes.”
In 2017 she spearheaded a women veterans conference, Heroes in Heels, which helped link mental health practitioners and former servicewomen with invisible wounds.
Out of the darkness of her personal experience with sexual assault came a passion for helping veterans, and it’s what drives her commitment to ensuring others don’t hesitate to seek out mental health assistance.