Amber Mathwig joined the Navy to serve her country after 9/11.
Instead, she got a harsh lesson about the bigger war the military is fighting: the war on sexual assault.
Her own personal horrors happened after she met two fellow sailors out at a bar.
“I trusted them, they were Navy, and with someone I had known for years and trusted very much. There was something put into my drink, and I was raped,” said Mathwig.
Unfortunately, Amber is not alone. In the last five years, more than 500 cases of sexual assault have been reported to NCIS inside Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, which includes the ships and commands right here in Hampton Roads.
That includes 95 open cases currently being investigated and only NewsChannel 3 has the actual reports detailing the crimes.
Hit in the face then raped in a car. Choked to the ground, and forced into having sex after saying "no." A woman's cries and screams for her attacker to stop were captured on an accidental phone call.
These real life stories happened to women right here in Hampton Roads who came forward to report their crimes.
Amber was one of so many thousands of others who stayed silent.
“I wouldn’t have been believed because I had been drinking,” said Mathwig.
Who could fault her, looking through some of the cases right here in Hampton Roads.
A USS Wasp officer refusing to pursue charges in an alleged rape calling it “a he said/she said case.”
A suspect aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, failed a polygraph and admitted he assaulted a woman, but the ship's commander still decided that no action would be taken.
When something is done, the punishment pales in comparison to the crime. Many times guilty sailors only get extra duty, a loss of pay and a reduction in rank.
“They need to lose their careers, and need to be kicked out of the military,” said Mathwig.
These reports show many cases come down to who is more credible and unfortunately for junior sailors, many times their attackers are their direct bosses.
Like a work center supervisor on the USS Cole, who sexually assaulted a woman under his command, or a senior chief on the USS Gravely, who assaulted multiple female crew members while deployed.
“Unless there is severe physical evidence supporting an assault, it’s just going to be, “Well, he is more reliable than her,” said Mathwig.
If you are accusing an officer, the statistics are even worse.
A sailor aboard the USS Ashland told investigators her commander fondled and groped her while she was in his office alone.
The suspect told agents he only touched her to inspect the length of her pants.
His case was declined for prosecution.
In fact, NewsChannel 3 only found two cases in the last five years where officers were court-martialed, found guilty of rape, and sentenced to jail time in the brig.
One of them was aboard the USS Kearsarge where Amber was actually serving as a military police officer at the time.
“People loved him, he took care of his sailors,” said Mathwig.
This 23-year officer made a mistake, though leaving behind marks after he choked and bit his enlisted sailor while raping her.
“That was one case where no one questioned the victim because she had very physical evidence that she had not participated in the assault,” said Mathwig.
Cases that actually see a military court room are few and far between because the option of a court-martial lies solely with the commanding officer.
NewsChannel 3 learned they even have the power to supersede or stop NCIS investigations.
When a sexual assault was reported at an air squadron based at Oceana, the commanding officer told NCIS he was going to handle this investigation himself "in house" because "he could do what he wanted."
“Obviously in this one area there's become a lack of confidence in the credibility of what’s going on there, and our military members deserve to have confidence in the judicial system,” said Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney Harvey Bryant.
Bryant was just appointed to the Pentagon's new panel on sexual assault, created to come up with possible changes to the military justice system.
Those who have been there, like Amber, hope whatever they decide will help bring back faith for victims.
According to the Pentagon, out of 26,000 estimated sexual assaults last year, less than 4,000 people filed a report.
“It’s no wonder that people don’t want to report, why would you want to destroy your career?” said Mathwig.
We requested an on-camera interview with Fleet Forces Command here in Norfolk, but Navy Spokesman Mike Kafka instead sent us this statement.
"Sexual Assault is a serious crime with serious consequences, and it has absolutely no place in today's Navy.
We are committed to eliminating sexual assault; to ensuring compassionate support for victims; to investigating all cases thoroughly; and to holding offenders accountable within the full extent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. To combat sexual assault, we must address it with efforts at all levels of the chain of command.
Despite the progress indicated by the DoD Annual Report and the 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty (WGRA) in training, bystander intervention, expedited victim transfers and prosecution of offenders, some significant challenges remain.
Our goal is to continue fostering command climates in which Sailors clearly understand sexual assault has no place in our Navy - period."