‘Nobody believed me’: Former Lorain soldier shares harrowing story of sexual assault for 1st time
LORAIN, Ohio (WOIO) - Former U.S. Army Officer Rashan Legard said after he was sexually assaulted by one of his superiors, he came very close to taking his own life.
“It was the journey after all that once I told to my leadership this happened that’s when they broke me down to a path to where I wanted to commit suicide,” Legard explained. “I went to PTSD, I had depression.”
The Lorain native shared his story for the first time in a three-part series with19 News investigator Kelly Kennedy.
“You wouldn’t think it would be able to happen to a man,” Legard said. “It would be more to a woman, and I feel me being the African American and 6′3, why’s he making this up? He is making it a bigger deal than it’s supposed to be, no! It needs to be said because this happens all the time to soldiers at every branch.”
34-year-old Rashan Legard spent years keeping the trauma and pain of his sexual assault bottled up inside him, but those days are over.
“When I decided to join the military, join the army, and serve our country, protect our nation, protect our weak I never thought I would be leaving this way, leaving weak myself,” he said. “I never thought I would have nightmares. I never thought I would be on sleep medication, PTSD medication.”
Legard grew up in Lorain. Shortly after graduating from college, he decided he wanted to join the Army.
“I wanted discipline, I wanted to be part of a family,” he explained.
In 2012 at 23-years-old, he did just that. A few months later he found himself stationed at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
“We was taught to trust our first line leader, for everything,” Legard said. “So, when we are hungry, when we are thirsty, when we run out of ammo, when we want to go to school, anything you want to do, we are groomed to trust our first line leader for everything just like you want to go to my supervisor because that’s how the chain of command works in any organization.”
In September 2013, everything changed. Legard said he and his platoon were headed to a training exercise at the gun range that day.
“I remember walking up to the Humvee, the vehicle, and my first line was walking past me and we had our weapons in the low and ready,” Legard recalled. “As he walked past me, I say, hey so and so, kind of like giving him acknowledgment again, because he is my first line. He decided to sexually inappropriately touch me, assault me and that moment felt like, the seconds felt like days, like what just happened and it wasn’t in a sportsmanship way, the parts that was grabbed and it was held on to and I lost part of my manhood, part of me, that I can never get back and then when I come to he looked at me and smiled, and winked and kept walking as if nothing happened.”
Legard said he immediately reported what happened to his platoon sergeant.
“All that was said was, ‘We’ll look into it,’ and I said, ‘Okay’ because I trusted my organization at that time to do that,” Legard said.
Legard claims his leadership swept what happened to him under the rug and for nearly a year he was desperate and even considered suicide.
Legard said the same non-commissioned officer had assaulted him and called him racial slurs shortly before the alleged sexual assault.
“This was the same NCO that called me a monkey, that called me a boy,” he said. “This was the same NCO that took his belt off and hit me with it and told me with my battle buddy by the side of me that no one’s gonna believe you, because you’re only a private.”
Legard said his superior used his position of power to taunt him and months passed and nothing happened.
“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” Legard said. “He took his belt off and he pulls, he said, ‘Come here, boy!’
‘Hey, what, what are you doing? I don’t play like that.’
And he just looked at me smiling, like, ‘Who’s gonna believe you, who you gonna tell?’”
After that, things only got worse for Legard.
“It seemed my career was always given a black eye and even after the fact at my next unit I had another NCO say that I heard you was lying and you got another NCO in trouble, I should punch you in your effing mouth right now for lying on my battle buddy,” he said.
From there Legard’s mental health went downhill fast.
“I just remember, nights I didn’t want to wake up,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to go formation. I didn’t want to be seen, the uniform I didn’t want it to touch my body. It felt disgusting.”
11 months after the alleged sexual assault, Legard finally found an army leader who pointed him in the right direction: to the Sexual Harassment Assault Response & Prevention, or SHARP, Program, something that he believes probably saved his life.
“When she found out about it, she immediately took me down to mental health the next day and gave me more army resources, mental health, and that actually helped me and it gave me a social worker, they put me in programs that allow me to feel like hey, there’s you don’t have to do that,” Legard said. “There are people out there that care because I didn’t know that I can go to, I didn’t know that I could go to behavioral health. That was frowned upon in my unit I was in. The unit I was in that was frowned upon and as I grew in the military, I’m seeing that there is other organizations that empower their soldiers to go. They care about the SHARP program, but why didn’t mine?”
The army officially opened an investigation in August 2014, but things still didn’t get any better for Legard. He said he faced retaliation from lots of other soldiers.
“You are soft, you a punk, you told and that’s why the Sergeant major dogged you in front of the whole unit because you will snitch,” Legard said to describe what others said to him. “A lot of people don’t know how much reprisal I’ve dealt with that’s what my journey started. It didn’t start from the groping, it started after when people found out this soldier told, and he used the army resources to navigate and when the army resources got involved, they actually helped to start discipline to the best that they can which they are getting better, and they helped me. I was facing reprisal every day and it feels like it’ll never go away.”
The army’s criminal investigation wrapped up in November 2014. According to military documents the army determined they did not have enough evidence to prove or disprove the sexual abuse claim, but they did find that the Sgt. was guilty of cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates and assault and battery when he struck Specialist Legard with his belt.
“When that investigation starts you just feel a sense of hopelessness, and it seemed like it never go away no matter what happens,” Legard said. “I guess you got to find out what you want out of it, and I still feel like I just don’t understand how he didn’t get charged with that.”
Legard said the perpetrator was disciplined.
“Nobody believed me because look at me. I’m 6′3, he’s 5′5, Caucasian. I could’ve, that didn’t happen to me, not him. He was given an article 15,” Legard explained. “He was disciplined. I don’t know the aftermath on what that entails if he lost rank. I really don’t know okay; all I know was that his punishment came but my punishment from me telling never stopped from that day.”
An article 15 is a non-judicial punishment that does not result in a criminal record and usually doesn’t affect a service member’s record in the military.
“At times I’m gonna feel like it wasn’t enough but until you realize that hey, you have to come to accept that they did what they could you will never heal, and this is my healing process,” he said. “I just have to come to accept that the army did what they could to help me in that situation, but I wish someone was able to help me through the journey that almost led me to suicide and now having PTSD.”
Legard believes the culture in the military plays a role in the way sexual assaults are reported and handled.
“I understand that it may never stop but I feel awareness brings prevention,” he said. “I used to write to protect myself, now I write spoken word to protect others.”
After hitting rock bottom the former military member is now sharing his experience through spoken word poetry in an effort to help other sexual assault survivors.
“They knew I was a victim, but they told me to shut it up,” Legard said in a spoken word performance. “They was like hey soldier are you making this up? Anything dealing with sexual—shhh. So why did my leadership try to cover it up? I was disturbed when my leadership told me I could leave behind my doubts and protect this country, but sir, who’s supposed to protect me?”
The most recent report on sexual assault from the military found that sexual assaults increased by more than 13% from fiscal year 2020 to 2021 and that increase was largely fueled by a nearly 26% increase in sexual assault reports from Legard’s former branch, the army. The most recent DOD report found that 90% of men in the military who had been sexually assaulted did not report it, compared to about 71% of women who failed to report a sexual assault.
“Because men in the military, we are told to be tough,” Legard said. “We rose our right hand to serve this country to be the strongest, to not show weakness. Drink water, when something happens to you, we always get told to drink water and as a male soldier to come out and say this happened everybody’s gonna look at you now and they’re gonna look at you very strange like what you’re taking one of our own down?”
Legard said looking back, even though it was tough, he knows he made the right decision reporting his assault.
“In that moment, I regretted every moment,” he admitted. “I wish I didn’t say nothing. My military career would have been different. I probably would have been a senior leader by now. I would have been halfway to retired by now living my life, but I’d be letting things slide and not being the best version of me. But the way it happened was supposed to happen and this is my journey and I’m willing to keep helping and getting the word out there that we are here for change. We are here to help, and we are here to stop make this stop this shouldn’t happen.”
Legard said all the failures in leadership he experienced from them turning a blind eye to not being believed motivated him to become an officer. He was sworn in in 2019.
“I started finding that hold on, maybe I can make a change,” Legard said. “I’m gonna become an officer in the military to make that change and be a voice for the unspoken heroes that people don’t hear and sexual assault survivors and soldiers who go through their trials tribulations that they have no voice that I know, and I want to be an advocate for them.”
This past summer, he decided it was time to leave his military career behind. He’s now using his harrowing experience to help others like him.
“Getting the opportunity to travel across the country, going from military base to military base, speaking to reps and soldiers about me being a military sexual assault survivor and how I persevered through that and letting them know like hey, you can get through this,” he said.
For the former soldier, it’s a privilege to help others get the help he didn’t have himself.
“Sometimes I wake up like, I could tell you this it is a struggle because I still have my own demons to fight through,” Legard admitted. “It always feels like you’re never doing enough but at the same time. I just tell myself that there’s somebody out there that needs to hear you, that needs to hear that one line. If I have a room full of 100 people and I made one person feel a sense of change, I did my job.”
19 News reached out to the army about Legard’s case and sexual assault cases in general. So far, we have not heard back.
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