An insider’s account of misogyny and rape in the US military and her extraordinary path to recovery and activism
Desperate to realize her childhood dream of being an astronaut, Lynn K. Hall was an enthusiastic young cadet. For Hall, the military offered an escape from her chaotic home—her erratic mother, absent biological father, and a man she called “dad” who sexually abused her. Resolute and committed to the Air Force Academy, Hall survived the ordeals of a first-year cadet: intense hazing from upperclassmen, grueling physical training, and demanding coursework. But she’s dismissed from the Academy when, after being raped by an upperclassman and contracting herpes, she is diagnosed with meningitis and left with chronic and debilitating pain.
Betrayed by the Academy and overcome with shame, Hall candidly recounts her loss of self, the dissociation from her body and the forfeiture of her individuality as a result of the military’s demands and her perpetrator’s abuse. Forced to leave the military and return to the civilian world, Hall turns to extreme sports to cope with and overcome PTSD and chronic pain. She, in turn, reclaims herself on the mountain trails of the Colorado Rockies.
An intimate account of grappling with shame and a misogynistic culture that condones rape and blames victims, Caged Eyes is also a transformative story of how it’s possible to help yourself and others in the aftermath of a profound injustice.
“Hall opens a window onto sexual assault in general and the effect it has immediately and years, even decades, afterward...Hall allows them to truly understand how victims internalize the worst accusations of the culture around them and the monumental effort needed to combat their own self-doubt...a deeper understanding of an important issue.”
“Told in compelling, honest prose, Caged Eyes is both an exposé of the horrifying misogyny and rape culture within the US military and a memoir of extraordinary resilience and triumph.”
—Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier and Sand Queen
“Lynn Hall is a powerful writer who tells an epic story. She vividly captures what it means to be raped by a fellow cadet—someone she considered family. She brings to life in a deeply personal way the double betrayal. First she was assaulted by a friend, and then she was silenced by an institution she loved, one which proved sadly incapable of enacting true justice. Hall is an incredibly resilient human being and this is a spectacular book about finding one’s voice and speaking out about injustice.”
—Helen Thorpe, author of Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War
“Brave, direct, and unflinching, Hall portrays, with compelling detail, the battle that women fight against sexual violence. Her story is heartbreaking, but also honest and inspiring. Her powerful voice makes this an absolutely necessary book, addressing a critically important issue.”
—Sue William Silverman, author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You
“Caged Eyes is an incredible story of a young woman’s odyssey. As Lynn Hall seeks to fulfill her dream to fly, she confronts unspeakable familial and health roadblocks due to sexual abuse first at home and later while a student in the Air Force Academy. Hall’s story confronts us with a modern-day pilgrim’s progress through the sometimes torturous path of growing up female in a man’s world. Due to her resilience and the love of friends, this is ultimately a tale of resurrection and hope for women struggling for sexual equality.”
—Peggy Sanday, author of Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus
“As a vulnerable young woman, Lynn Hall encountered a succession of men, and then a prestigious institution, that not only abused her but tried to coerce her into silence. But they did not succeed. This beautiful and inspiring memoir represents the triumph of her voice—and by extension that of countless other victims and survivors—over the actions and inactions of perpetrators and bystanders who might have been able to inflict pain, but who could never hold a candle to her strength of character and moral integrity.”
—Jackson Katz, Ph.D. co-founder of Mentors in Violence Prevention, the first system-wide gender violence prevention program in the U.S. military, and author of The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How all Men Can Help
From the Prologue
Mitchell Hall felt colossal to me, inspiring yet humbling, like much of the Air Force Academy. It was not just a cafeteria or a chow hall, but rather a dining facility fit for officer candidates of the world’s most dominant military. Like all of the buildings at the Academy, Mitchell Hall’s outer aluminum frame resembled an airplane’s metallic shell. Inside, two-story panoramic windows opened to the snow-covered pine forests blanketing the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Air Force–blue tablecloths adorned four hundred rectangular tables arranged in a perfect grid. We flooded through the doors of Mitchell Hall at the end of the noon meal formation, when awed tourists watched us cadets march to lunch. From the staff tower, a man’s voice commanded, “Wing, take seats,” and all four thousand of us sat in unison. The Air Force Academy bragged that we were the cream of the crop: America’s most driven, disciplined, bright, and honorable young adults, destined for charmed careers, first as Air Force commanders, fighter pilots, or intelligence officers, and later as aerospace engineers, politicians, or generals. A few of us might even reach our most coveted profession—astronaut. To prepare us for these future lives, the Academy packed our schedule with academics, athletics, and military training, which demanded no less than eighteen hours of effort each day of our four-year tenure. We were allowed twenty minutes for the noon meal.
It was a Monday in late February 2003, and as an underclassman, I sat at the table’s foot. Waitstaff rushed down the aisles, delivering hot dishes. Today’s meal: Chicken à la King over pasta. I passed the platter to the head of the table so that the seniors could serve themselves first. I sat perfectly still on the front six inches of my chair, back straight, my handsfl at in my lap. I focused my eyes on the black eagle at the top of my white, round plate; otherwise, upperclassmen would demand that I “cage my eyes.” I had not yet earned the privilege of allowing my eyes to stray.
There was an excess of energy in the dining hall. Cadets talked loudly, but this buzz wasn’t excitement; it was anger. “Liars,” I heard repeatedly. “Bitches.” Over the weekend, seven women had appeared on ABC’s 20/20 telling their stories of having been raped, ostracized, and punished here at the Air Force Academy. Watching from their computers in their dorm rooms, the cadets in my hallway had erupted in immediate fury, slamming doors and yelling: “Those fucking liars!” “How dare they attack our Academy?” I had watched the seven women on a grainy feed on my laptop in horror. I was angry, too, although I knew each word they spoke was true. One of the women had been raped by the same man who had raped me. My anger at them came from fear. I had trusted those women on TV. Together we had formed a rape survivors’ support group and had shared in painstaking detail what had happened to us. We connected our stories and their similarities and had realized—together—the pervasiveness of our traumas. Nearly simultaneously a handful of the women in our ever-expanding underground network of survivors were discharged from the Air Force. A few left by choice. Some were kicked out after they reported their rape, for offenses such as having sex in the dorms, even though they insisted it wasn’t consensual. Then their collective outrage drove them to seek out the media.
But what did they think would happen to us women at the Academy when they went public? While I admired their courage, I felt betrayed—furious that they could be so inconsiderate to those of us left behind.
Too nauseated to eat, I held my body taut while the upperclassmen at the head of my table debated “what the fuck was wrong” with these women. All nine cadets I sat with happened to be men, supposedly my Air Force family. “Collaborate to graduate,” cadets often chanted. Graduating from the Academy required tremendous teamwork. Academy administrators designed our training—the academic projects, athletics, inspections, field programs—to foster collaboration and solidarity. As an underclassman, even something as simple as walking to the bathroom was illegal unless a “wingman” came with me. Without a wingman, I’d have to pee in my dorm room sink. Cadet rules were so strictly enforced that the distinction between violating them and breaking actual Academy laws was blurred.
One of the seniors directed his attention to my end of the table and asked, “What do you think of those fucking whores who’re tarnishing our Academy?” Fucking whores. I had felt that way about myself. That I was a whore. That’s exactly how my perpetrators had made me feel. Perpetrators, plural. I had been raped by an upperclassman, but I had also been molested back home in the months before becoming a cadet. What kind of weak, helpless girl could be victimized by multiple men? I was smart—my high school’s valedictorian. And I was tough—strong enough to finish the Academy’s rigorous basic training. And yet I had been a victim, too, repeatedly. It wasn’t until I had confessed to my survivors group that I had been assaulted more than once, and another woman had answered, “Me, too,” that I questioned the self-recrimination that for months had kept me silent. Maybe I wasn’t a fucking whore. Maybe there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me that had brought on the sexual assaults. After the senior’s question, I felt the eyes of the nine men around me monitoring my every twitch. The cadet across the table thrust his closed fist into the air between us, a standard way for a freshman to raise a hand. “Sir, may I make a statement?” The senior nodded to him. The freshman dropped his hand and looked directly at me, a stern, unblinking stare that confirmed my roommate had leaked my secret and that he knew of my own rape allegation. He said, “Sir, I think a woman who gets herself raped isn’t strong
PART I: Space Odyssey
PART II: Broken
PART III: Dark Ages
PART IV: Warrior Spirit
PART V: Higher
Select Recommendations for Resources on Sexual Assault in the Military