Campus Life

Navy Seaman shares his story of sexual assault with the Stockton community

Written for The Argo by Zuleika Rodriguez Garcia

TW: Mentions SA and describes instances involving SA, mentions of suicidal ideation and PTSD, homophobia (no graphic content or descriptions of SA) 

On Feb. 23, Heath Phillips visited Stockton University to speak about his experience as a Navy Seaman who survived sexual assault. Tierra Houston, the program coordinator for Power-Based Personal Violence Initiatives, described how programming often overlooks military veteran services, which is why it is all the more important to have Phillips visit and share his story. 

Phillips joined the United States Navy at seventeen years old in 1988. The only thing he wished for was to follow in his father’s footsteps by serving and protecting his country. While stationed in New Jersey, Phillips endured forty-nine days of violence and sexual assault at the hands of six other Navy seamen. Phillips—with great courage—spoke out about the things he experienced but was met with homophobic remarks that completely disregarded his traumatic experiences. Phillips described waking up after one such experience to see another navy seaman in the washroom with him, recounting how in order to get there the man would have had to step over his body, doing nothing to help him.

Phillips went AWOL, meaning absent without leave from his appointed place of service. He met with a congressman who launched a congressional investigation into the abuse. Phillips was told to remain AWOL until the case was resolved but was eventually sent back to the Navy ship where he discovered that an undercover Navy agent had been able to uncover seventeen other victims of two of Phillips’ attackers. This would not have been possible without the bravery of Phillips and his decision to speak out. Phillips received an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy in order to be able to return home.

For the following twenty years, Phillips coped with drugs and alcohol. He described how he was an absent father and struggled to be around other men. In 2009, twenty years after the assault, Phillips was still left with PTSD, nightmares, and flashbacks about the abuse. After surviving a suicide attempt, he decided that it was time to make a change. He was able to get clean and continues to work on himself as an ongoing journey. He now travels, telling his experiences to students and to members of the army. 

Phillips pointed out that we only ever hear about women being raped and went on to say, “rape doesn’t have a gender, race, or age.” Throughout his experience with assault, nobody reached out to help Phillips, and when he reached out to his commanders, he was only met with judgment and dismissal. He was repeatedly called “gay” and told to stop with his “homosexual fantasies.” Phillips is helping to change the narrative that only women can be assaulted. He speaks out about his story and encourages everyone to be more than just a bystander. Even if it is an anonymous report or a small action, any step to help a victim of any sort of violence has the potential to save a person’s life. 

Phillips also posed a challenge for everyone. He encouraged the audience to go up to a stranger once every week and ask them how they are doing. He told the audience about how he struggled with connections and opened up about his experiences with difficulty expressing love. Through this challenge, Phillips hopes to encourage people to form real-life connections through in-person communication. 

Stockton University offers multiple resources for those experiencing assault, including a 24-hour WGSC Violence Intervention Hotline. For more information on the resources available to the Stockton community, please visit: or

For more information on Military and Veteran Services at Stockton University, please visit: For more information on US Navy Veteran Heath Phillips, please visit: