Captain Dendra Weaver said she fought tough battles throughout her decadelong career in the West Virginia National Guard. "I'm pretty tough, I've seen some stuff and I had my breaking point in Afghanistan."
But the real battle, she said, began when she returned home to Charleston, West Virginia, when she began to receive private Facebook messages from her high-ranking boss. "The inappropriate conversations that were very lewd and sexual in nature that he would send me."
She said she tried to avoid him, until one day, he ordered her into his office. "He said, 'Captain, if you repeat one word I say in here to anyone, I will f---ing kill you, do you understand me?’"
Frightened he could destroy her career but wanting the sexual harassment to stop, Weaver said she went to the one woman she felt she could trust — Lt. Col. Teresa James — one of the highest ranking women inside the West Virginia National Guard.
Serving in Silence: Women Felt "Unsafe at Work"
"She was untouchable, she was a fast tracker," Capt. Weaver explained.
But what the captain didn’t know is James also had a secret about the very same man.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, he's going to do the same thing to her that he did to me,’” James told the News4 I-Team. “I did not want to have sex with him, and it was rape."
Lt. Col. James said after Weaver confided in her, she started to hear about other women claiming they too were sexually harassed or assaulted by the same man.
That, and not the rape itself, is what caused her to break down during the interview. "I've had to deal with not saying something early on,” she explained. “That's been a big deal for me. Dealing with the guilt that of had I said something earlier, perhaps, if I wouldn't have been so selfish, perhaps they would not have had to do what they had to go through."
Lt. Col. James said she now felt it was her duty to come forward and report her rape, even though she had kept it quiet for years because she was worried it could destroy her 34-year career.
And, she said, that's exactly what happened.
Lt. Col. James told the I-Team she tried everything she knew from filing complaints with the Department of Defense, the National Guard Bureau and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators.
James said one of those SARCs, “She told me that they didn't believe me. That her boss, a colonel, said that I was playing the rape card."
Since James and her alleged attacker were high-ranking officers, the National Guard dispatched a special team from its Office of Complex Administrative Investigations, which "substantiated" her case.
"They did a wonderful job investigating,” James said. “But why are we spending all this money to travel all over the country to investigate and it has no meaning?”
Because James said she was told the state of West Virginia didn't have money or authority to bring a court martial against her attacker.
Instead, as the I-Team found, most guard units across the country must rely on local law enforcement to investigate sexual assaults. The local prosecutor in James’s case told her the statute of limitations had expired.
Meaning there was only one person left who could punish her perpetrator: West Virginia's Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer.
"I believe that the cases that we've dealt with, with the tools that we have, we have done the maximum level of punishment under the system that we have available to us," Gen. Hoyer told the I-Team when he sat down to discuss how he’s tackling sexual assault inside his unit.
He explained he agreed to accept the officer’s "resignation in lieu of adverse action" instead of pushing for a dishonorable discharge because the officer was so close to retirement. The two-star general said he also delayed the officer from getting his $62,000 a year pension by placing two letters of reprimand, or GOMARs, into his file. "One of the reasons that we've done those is to impact their ability not to get a job in a federal agency or a state agency."
But Capt. Weaver and Lt. Col. James say they think the officer got off lightly, while they both feel retaliated against by being ordered to undergo medical evaluations questioning whether they were fit for duty.
When asked if that’s a career killer, Capt. Weaver quickly responded, “It was. Absolutely.”
Lt. Col. James agreed. "I've absolutely been reprised against."
But Gen. Hoyer disagreed. “We have not retaliated against individuals, and all the cases that have come forward to us related to sexual assault, sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, we have a record of dealing with perpetrators, and I think you'll see we don't have a record of reprisals."
In the end, Lt. Col. James said if she had known her guard unit couldn’t bring a court martial in her case, she would never have come forward.
“One of the hardest things I've ever had to do is to report that,” she said, calling it harder than going through war. “I lost everything and I did nothing wrong. I know I lost my opportunity to continue to serve and be a full colonel. It was a goal. And it will never happen.”
In a statement to News4, the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) says the "allegations presented are not reflective of the commands' actions and efforts in cases of sexual assault." Click here to read WVNG's full statement.