Military Sexual Trauma survivor wants to send hope through mural

Posted at 10:32 AM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 20:09:33-05

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — On a pair of transformed brick walls at the Oceanfront, you'll find two birds: a raven and an eagle that tell the duality of a story woven through hurt and hope.

The mural was the vision of Danitza James, an Army veteran and Military Sexual Trauma survivor.

James joined the Army just months before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Quickly the world changed and she found herself overseas, serving two combat tours in Iraq. It was while overseas that James was sexually assaulted.

"I wanted out, that was my safety escape. I felt that if I returned back to combat, I wasn't going to come back. That's how in that shaped by was. So for me leaving the military was the only way I could survive," James shared in a conversation with News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

In the years that followed, she found strength but the adjustment to civilian life was tough.

"For me to even begin to process it and put it into words that someone can understand it, it was just, you know, I would rather not, you know, just crawl back under the rock," James said.

Eventually James came into contact with the Armed Services Arts Partnership, or ASAP, an organization that helps veterans thrive through the arts.

"That gave me an opportunity to put my thoughts and everything that I had going on into paper and like, leave it there," she said.

ASAP was founded locally at William & Mary, and now works with veterans on projects across the country.

"Hampton Roads is our home. Hampton Roads is where we were born and kind of grew up as an organization as a nonprofit," shared Brian Jenkins, Executive Director of ASAP.

"Not only is Hampton Roads incredibly rich in terms of its military culture, it's also rich in terms of its arts culture," he added.

The 2020 murder of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen and the revelation that she had reported she was being sexually harassed galvanized James to do more.

She partnered with ASAP, the ViBe Creative District, and artist Victoria Weiss to honor Guillen and all those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.

"I wanted to bring that awareness, you know, to Virginia, but I wanted to do it in a way that also brought hope," James said.

"I think that it's bringing hope to the community, right, hope that things are going to change and that's that's all we can ask for."

You can find sexual assault resources for anyone, military or civilian, here.