Ask the woman about her old high heel collection and she’ll smile.
“I had lost a lot of weight,” she said, “and I wanted to be tall, too.”
But on Tuesday morning, slumped in a chair wearing flats and a hoodie, she wasn’t that girl anymore.
Not since U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Tyler Banks raped her.
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During a court martial at Base Miami Beach, Banks, 30, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the woman, who is not being identified by the Miami Herald because of the nature of the crime. Military judge Capt. Christine Cutter sentenced Banks to 24 months’ confinement, a reduction to the lowest pay grade and a dishonorable discharge.
Cutter took only 20 minutes to make her decision following hours of testimony on both sides from friends, family and the victim herself of the events surrounding that morning in March 2013.
The victim told the court that she and Banks met the August before during a beach day with Catholic Panthers, the Catholic student ministry at Florida International University, where the woman was studying public administration.
They became friends and soon, more than that.
Their relationship became serious over the next few months. They talked about the future. They attended a lecture series called Theology of the Body, which teaches the importance of purity before marriage. They opened up to each other, enough to where the woman told Banks about the time she’d been raped before.
“When I trusted Tyler, it was me learning how to trust again,” she said. “And now this happened.”
“This” was the moment Banks used the weight of his body to force himself on her. There was no alcohol. There was no question of consent.
It was, Banks said in an unsworn statement, “an epic mistake.” He lost control in the heat of the moment, he said. He was sorry, he said.
Seeking to lessen the punishment, the defense brought in witnesses who described him as a selfless man, one who donated bone marrow to a stranger, who volunteered much of his time at the Catholic church, who joined the Coast Guard simply to help people.
“Yes, he made a mistake,” said Banks’ mother, Rebecca, “but it surely wasn’t because he wanted to do harm to another person.”
But the prosecution emphasized how the rape put the woman’s life on hold. She dropped out of FIU, pushing her degree and dreams of starting a non-profit aside. She lost touch with family, friends and her faith.
“A few seconds,” she said, “destroyed so much of my life.”