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STILL STANDING by Julia Torres


by Julia Torres

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

A tenacious former U.S. Army soldier shares her struggles with sexual assault and abuse inside and outside the armed forces.

This debut memoir starts as a story of care and conflict. Torres, the daughter of divorced Cuban immigrants, was brought up by her mother in a loving New Jersey household, in which she was taught to avoid confrontation. Nevertheless, when she faced bullying at the hands of her schoolmates, she refused to back down. Plagued by the pains of adolescence, from youthful heartbreak to an absentee father, Torres saw her senior prom as her exit into adulthood; that idea was destroyed, she says, when she was drugged and raped by her date, who robbed her of her virginity. Overwhelmed by anger and self-blame, she saw her life as ruined. Wanting to turn it into something good, she enlisted in the Army and was one of the first volunteers for Operation Desert Shield. But the real conflict Torres found, she says, was with her fellow soldiers. Sexual harassment ran rampant, and abuse and disinterest from her superiors were the norm. The book excels at presenting this frustrating atmosphere and the author’s ever-present dread of sexual victimization. Torres’ no-nonsense manner of grappling with it reveals anxieties that so many people experience daily, in and out of the armed forces. Her real-life experiences make her views on the subjects of sexual assault and harassment particularly stirring. She also tells of the ways she tried to protect herself and of the few male soldiers willing to stand up for her. Torres’ descriptions of interactions with her friends are exceptional, and her dialogue captures their crass fun and the loving care they had for each other. However, she only alludes to finding even the beginnings of peace in her life, a regrettable turn in a memoir that shares so much, as it seems to build to an end that readers never see. The text would also have benefited from a stronger edit to correct typos and formatting errors. The book ends abruptly, with barely a glimpse of Torres’ post-military life in law enforcement.

An unpolished memoir of recovery, but it’s one with an important message.