Lynn Hall
Lynn Hall (Courtesy Photo)

Lynn Hall wishes she could go back to her 20-year-old self standing on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, grab her younger shoulders and share the news that she proudly published a memoir about her rape on the United States Air Force Academy campus in Colorado.

"My younger self wouldn't have believed it," she said.

Hall did the next best thing Tuesday, standing up in front of a class she once sat in as a student, bearing her truth to the crowded lecture in Professor Joanne Belknap's "violence against women and girls" course.

As a young woman, Hall just wanted to fly.

"I saw the space shuttle launch, and that was it," she said. "I wanted to be up there."

Before becoming an Air Force cadet in 2001, Hall was sexually abused by her air instructor helping her to get her pilot license.

"I was 17, and he was 53," she said.

Six months later, Hall was studying at the Air Force Academy when she said a senior cadet offered to help and ended up raping her in the library. Contracting herpes and, eventually, meningitis, Hall was compelled to report her story.

The illnesses prevented her from graduating from the academy and becoming the pilot she had always longed to be.

"It set me on a very different path," Hall told the room of CU students, intently taking notes and processing her story.


Advertisement

Hall enrolled at CU in 2004 and began taking classes in women and gender studies and psychology. Taking time off for her health issues, Hall graduated in 2010.

Belknap's class was assigned to read Hall's memoir, published in February, called "Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet's Story of Rape and Resilience." The students had the opportunity to send Hall questions about her experiences, which she answered with a frankness that made her former professor sitting off to the side teary-eyed with pride.

"When I looked around the room while Lynn was talking, I felt so lucky to have learned from Lynn, and for my current students to learn from Lynn," Belknap said. "So many of them wrote not only questions for her, but beautiful tributes to her for her courage, stamina and for getting published."

Instead of just having the public hear snippets of rape cases blipped in the news, Hall wanted to walk a reader through her own story to show what she described as a systemic culture that allowed sexual assault to continue.

The road to publishing her memoir was winding.

The book, which Hall began writing in 2007, received at least 60 rejections over the course of a year.

"It turns out rape is a hard sell," she said. "Who knew?"

When publishers asked Hall to take out her first sexual assault to make the book "cleaner," she pushed back.

"I knew my whole story was beneficial," Hall said. "There are so many people who have been sexually assaulted more than once, and the shame is so thick, it can destroy your life if you let it. The more we share our own stories and are met with empathy, that shame just dissolves."

As movements like the "me too" campaign giving people a platform to share their sexual assault stories contrast with recent sexual assault scandals such as the highly-contested Alabama Senate race with accused child molester Roy Moore receiving the President Donald Trump's support, Hall said her work feels more urgent now than ever.

Some days, the thought of logging onto Twitter and reading more disheartening news about sexual assault makes Hall feel like giving up. In times of distress, the activist and author thinks of the people she meets during her book discussions who have told her they found healing and the courage to speak up about their own assaults after reading her story.

"This is a critical moment in our country," Hall said. "What's going to happen next? Are we just going to move on or actually going to learn something from this moment? I hope it's the latter. I know I'm not going to stop doing this work."

Elizabeth Hernandez: 303-473-1106, hernandeze@dailycamera.com