The annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month luncheon was held Thursday, April 26, at The Landing. The speaker this year was Mary Lauterbach, the mother of a Marine who was murdered in 2007.
Lauterbach's talk focused on the story of her daughter's death and what changes could help save others' lives. She opened her talk by stating that she was not here to demean the Marines or any military branch but to share her daughter's story.
"There's nothing any one of us can do to bring my daughter back to me, but by avoiding some of the mistakes that her leadership and all people who were assigned to care for her, you in this audience could literally be saving the lives of those people who entrusted you for their care," said Lauterbach.
She then went on to give background about Maria and how she and her sister were adopted by Lauterbach when Maria was only 18 months old. They were taken away from their birth mother due to neglect and while Maria carried some emotional burden because of it, Lauterbach described her as an enthusiastic, active and athletic kid.
Maria first learned about the Marines in high school during a fair. If a student could pull themselves up over a chin bar and hold themselves there for 60 seconds they would win a T-shirt. Maria was able to do it for 70 seconds and they wanted her to join.
After passing the Crucible, she was given a clerical position at Camp Legume in the fall of 2006. It was during her time here that she got herself into trouble by getting caught stealing money that she had planned to return on pay day.
"It was the most expensive $30 she ever stole," said Lauterbach. "At that point she was labeled a problem. That was it for her reputation; she was known as a liar."
On Mother's Day 2007 during a phone call with her mother Maria told her she had been raped a month before. Her mom told her to get her facts straight, and to report it.
According to Lauterbach, after reporting the rape all anyone focused on was her past history of being a liar and thief instead of focusing on the rape accusation. She blames it partly on the fact that everyone believed the fellow Marine her daughter accused was popular and known as a "stellar Marine."
She also stated that after accusing him, her daughter was harassed verbally, physically and her property was damaged, and that the victim advocate that was assigned to her daughter was more of a "victim listener" because she did not react when Maria told her about being harassed.
Maria became pregnant by another person but it was not known to everyone else so the harassment continued and became so bad she asked to be transferred and was told no.
"Maria set herself up to be the perfect victim," said Lauterbach. "Sexual predators seek out people like her who they know no one is going to believe. "
Weeks later she received a phone call that Maria had left a note saying she couldn't take Marine life and she was leaving and they couldn't find her. Lauterbach said she tried to talk to a supervisor and they told her for 30 days they don't do anything but deactivate their pay and that there was nothing they could do.
Five days later Maria's phone was found a quarter-mile from the main gate of Camp Legume and she knew that something bad had happened to Maria.
Eventually, someone tried to use Maria's ATM card. While waiting to get a picture of the person who was using it, the person accused of her rape deserted to Mexico. Lauterbach couldn't understand how no one could make a connection between Maria accusing someone of rape, then being harassed for it, then her disappearing around the time when a decision would be made in the rape case, and the accused leaving for Mexico.
The photo from the ATM eventually came back and it was the man she had accused. They went to his house and found her body.
"She was eight months pregnant. And her body was burned and buried in his backyard," said Lauterbach. "To show how blinded people were that this guy wouldn't have done it, Maria's car was parked in front of his house for all those weeks. No one could be bothered to drive past his house."
Lauterbach finished her talk by talking about what changes could have saved her daughter and could save other's lives.
"Base transfers are fundamental, that alone would have saved my daughter's life," she said. "This is uncomfortable to talk about but it has to be well addressed because of the well-being of the overall military. And I ask you to be pro-active in protecting sexual assault victims because they are vulnerable and the life you save could be theirs."
Col. Kathryn Kolbe, vice commander of the 75th Air Base Wing presented Lauterbach with a plaque and thanked her for telling her story.
"The SAPR program was created to enable readiness through creating a culture in the military that is free from sexual assault," she said. "And unfortunately while we've made progress, we still have work to do because one sexual assault is too many."
Janaee Stone, Installation SARC, explained the importance of victim advocates and thanked them for the important role they play.
"Without our victim advocates, there would be no advocacy for our victims. They are the ones who are with our victims 24/7 with any type of help that is needed," said Stone.