Even as a little girl Claire Russo wanted nothing more than to grow up and serve in the military. At 14, she was a Senate page for Dan Coats, worked at the Republican National Convention in San Diego, and interned for Senator Judd Gregg the following year. Later she said "I became obsessed with the Marine Corps after that. I knew the legacy of the Marine Corps was elite and the legacy of Guadalcanal. They were pretty tough and if I was going to join, I’d join the toughest out there."
When she grew up, she became a Marine who served in Iraq and later as an advisor for the Army in Afghanistan. At Officers Candidate School, where she finished fourth in a class of 65, she started hearing stories about women who had been raped by other Marines. One of her drill instructors told her, "You're either a bitch or a slut."
In 2004 she was assigned as an intelligence officer to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. She moved in with her cousin Tom, who was a Navy F-18 pilot and instructor on the base. Just a month after Claire arrived at Miramar, the festivities surrounding the Marine Corps' annual birthday celebration were in full swing. She accompanied her cousin Tom to his Marine Corps Ball since he didn't have a date. Before the Ball officially began they partied in a hotel room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego with some friends.
As the evening wore on, Claire had several drinks, and, since Tom had hooked up with a date, she started feeling like the odd woman out. She had been introduced to several of Tom's pilot friends for whom she had the utmost repect. She had wanted to work with pilots as part of her mission in the Marines. She made small talk and danced with some of them to whom she was introduced by their call signs such as Wallet and Dirty.
Later Dirty, who was a Marine Captain, invited her to join a group of friends at a room party upstairs. Claire said, “I would certainly never question the integrity or motivation of the Marines—certainly not at that point. I didn’t doubt this guy at all.” It turned out that the "room party" was at Dirty's room, and there was no one else there. The next thing she remembers is being forced to give Dirty a blow job during the course of which she started vomiting. The only thing she remembers him saying to her was "You're so disgusting."
After that she was in the bathroom where Captain Dirty was trying to penetrate her anally to the point that she started bleeding. He left her there naked on the bathroom floor covered in blood and vomit. She then heard her cell phone ringing in the other room. She entered the bedroom where Dirty had already retired to bed and answered the phone. It was one of cousin Tom's friends. She's incoherent. He tells her to get a cab and go home. She puts on her vomit-and-blood stained dress and jacket, leaving behind ripped stockings and a broken necklace. Without a word from Captain Dirty, she leaves, wanders abjectly around the hotel lobby looking for Tom and catches a cab home around 3 AM.
Her boyfriend Josh, another Marine who was on duty that night at Camp Pendleton calls her around 7 AM, and she can't tell him what happened. While Josh comes to get her, she takes a shower and realizes she's still bleeding. Around 4 pm Claire returns home with Tom and begins to go into shock—crying, shaking, feeling cold and panicky—as she relived the events of the previous night with Tom. A dutiful pilot, he immediately phones his Unit Executive Officer to report that there was an incident at his Marine Corps Ball, despite Claire’s protests. He then takes Claire to the Emergency Room at Balboa Navy Medical Center. Tom then receives a call from NCIS, (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) Special Agent Zach Paton, who says, “Do not let them examine her. They’re going to screw it up,” referring to the Navy Medical Center. He tells Tom to bring Claire to a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) nurse who specializes in sexual assault exams at Palomar-Pomerado Hospital, a civilian facility.
After several conversations with different agencies of the military, Paton was told that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute; that it was a “he said, she said” case and there wasn’t anything in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that would allow them to prosecute a rape by intoxication. So Paton took the case to the San Diego District Attorney’s office. “They about crapped in their drawers,” says Paton. “Because of his [Dirty’s] position and rank and the potential media outcome, they wanted to keep it as small as possible.”
And so Dirty whose real name is Captain Douglas Alan Dowson went on trial in civilian court in San Diego. It turns out that he had a prior record of deviant sexual behaviour but no prior conviction. Gretchen Means was the Deputy District Attorney in San Diego's Sex Crimes Unit who prosecuted Claire's case. Dowson was charged with six counts of sexual assault. Two days into the trial Dowson accepted a plea on one count of sodomy of an intoxicated person. He was sentenced to three years in prison but served just 19 and a half months. Given the sentencing laws, Means says, it was likely he would get more time if he had been found guilty on multiple counts. Dowson is now registered as a sex offender and was discharged from the Marine Corps with an other than honorable discharge in 2006. In the summer of 2007, Claire sued Dowson for damages and he settled for $13,000.
After the rape, Claire remained dedicated to the military. In 2006 she was deployed to Iraq. After being sexually harrassed there, she returned home with PTSD and was given a medical discharge from the military in 2007. She married Josh and they traveled the world. But she still had the desire to serve. In 2009 she was hired by the Army to be part of the Female Engagement Team in Afghanistan.
Claire said the way that the military dealt with her was far more traumatizing than the actual assault. But somehow she persevered and maintained her belief in military service. Gretchen Means has seen a lot of rape victims, but Claire stands out among them:
“I’ve known Claire for a long time, I went to her wedding, I’ve seen her inside and outside this crime. I was always really super impressed with how engaged she was in getting through it.
“Look what she’s done with her life. This took away her dignity and love of her country for a little bit, but look what she’s done; amazing stuff.”
Claire is currently a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington D.C. where she interviews men in the Special Operations forces about their experiences employing women and the role of women in the military.
Claire now has a one year old daughter named Genevieve.
This article relies on an article in Business Insider entitled, "This Marine Was Raped By A Captain and the Military Did Nothing."