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Female Firefighters Speak Out On Sexual Abuse

7:33 AM, Jun 6, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Four firefighters have been reassigned to desk duty, as DC Police investigate an allegation of  sex abuse at a Northwest firehouse.

As new information comes out, women firefighters are speaking out about their experiences with sexual abuse and what it's like to be a woman in a firehouse.

24-year-old Ali Warren says she was nearly raped by firefighters when she was just a teenager starting out in a small Pennsylvania fire station.

"There were three of them and one of me. They pinned me down and put their hand under my clothes and somehow I broke free from them."

Warren who's written a book about her experience 'Where Hope Lives,' believes sexual abuse at fire houses is a pervasive problem and that the culture needs to change.

"These things happen so much more than any one realizes, so much more than anyone wants to say," she said. 

DC Police say a 43-year-old female firefighter was asleep at the Westend firehouse in Northwest, when she felt someone touch her inner thigh.  Two firefighters are accused of the misdemeanor assault and two supervisors are being investigated on how the case was handled.  All four have been reassigned to desk duty.

Baltimore Co. Fire Lt. Angela Hughes is part an advocacy organization that fights for the inclusion of women in fire services.

Like Warren, Hughes was just 16 when she got her start as a volunteer firefighter.

"I stayed in a house too long and got burned, I was always trying to prove myself," she said. 

The allegations come at a time the military is under scrutiny for handling its sex assault cases and Capitol Hill is considering stripping commanders of its authority in handling the cases.

Hughes says, "Unfortunately, not a lot of people come forward because of fear, retaliation, and reliving the experience. It's painful."

Despite the challenges, Hughes wants women to know there are outlets for them to feel safe if they ever become a victim.

Hughes and Warren are fighting for equality for a sisterhood and family of firefighters.

Warren says, "You need to be completely present at this job with no distractions and when you  have to worry about 'am I safe? Am I safe while sleeping?' It destroys you mentally." 

After many years these two women firefighters can now say they do feel safe and are respected at their firehouses.  But they realize there's so much more work to be done.

Lieutenant Hughes has reached out to the DC Fire Chief in order to get in touch with the alleged victim.

Women  make up only about four percent of firefighters across the country.

You can learn more about the International Association of Women in the Fire Service by going to their website at www.i-women.org/

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