- The sexual harassment had gotten so bad I was starting to have a meltdown.
My way of surviving was just to get in my car and get away, beause you can always get away.
There's always a way of escape if you need to.
And I would never forget that it was like the first car that I bought.
It just really keep me grounded.
That Bug reminds me of who I am and what I'm here for.
- Hi, I'm Shain Brenden.
As a veteran, I understand how objects we brought back from service can be so meaningful.
They can remind us why we served and what we did or help us transition back to civilian life.
Today, I talk with a veteran whose object represented hope and freedom in the wake of military sexual trauma.
- My name is Patricia Alston Harris, and I was a sergeant, U.S. Army.
I'm retired after 22 years.
In Germany, I was a signal soldier.
We set poles, buried cable, and then I operated the secure switchboard.
So it was more of a non-traditional job for women.
- For you personally, as a woman, what was it like working on that base?
- I worked just as hard as, you know, the guys did, but some tried to give me a hard time.
There was a lot of women jokes, officers trying to get me to sleep with them.
I didn't want to, and I wasn't going to.
I was already having a problem at home, so I was fighting domestic violence at home and sexual harassment at work.
- What options did you have as far as, I don't know, just letting someone know harassment is happening?
I mean, were there any resources?
- If you tell, they were more likely to get rid of you, and then you abandon all of your hopes and dreams of serving in the military because you told or you did something about it.
I said no and just took whatever the consequences were.
They really retaliated on me.
They punished me by putting me on endless KP duty, cleaning pots and pans after breakfast.
Then I had to go and sit in guard duty.
After that I had to deal with the abuse at home.
There were problems in that marriage that had gotten to the point that he wouldn't let me drive our car.
So I came up with enough to buy my own car.
And it's just like the one that I'm looking at, the little model, now.
It's just like this one, except mine was real shiny and pretty, and it had a little baby seat in the back seat.
And it was me and the kids.
That was just like, you know, liberty, because now I have some control of my own.
Me and the children traveled in the little car.
That was where the healing began.
- Why did you stay in the military after your experience in Germany?
- They did everything that they thought could just make me stop my career.
It's just not going to, just, end my career like that.
- So what did you do after you retired?
- I did not know what I was going to do.
All of the harassment, all the stuff that I should have gotten angry about.
I knew I was a mess inside, internally.
I couldn't talk to my family about it.
My mother didn't understand anything about it.
Women Veterans Support Services came about when I realized I didn't have anybody to talk to.
We started a program with domestic violence and sexual assault, being advocates, and then try to help get women veterans counseling and help them navigate through crisis to get them to a stable and safe place.
A lot of us are left to carry the memories of rapes, unwanted sexual advancements, and it can be a very devastating thing for anybody to have to bear.
But you can always get away.
For me, this Bug was our pathway to freedom.
It's always a gentle reminder that you can always leave.