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A video posted by a female U.S. Marine about sexual assault in the military rocketed across the internet and into a Pentagon press-briefing room Friday. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised to take additional steps to stop such violence. But as Nick Schifrin reports, sexual assault in the military continues to rise and individual families continue to be ripped apart.
A video posted by a female Marine about sexual assault in the military rocketed across the Internet, and into Pentagon press briefing room today.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised to take additional steps to stop such violence.
But, as Nick Schifrin reports, sexual assault in the military continues to rise, and individual families continue to be ripped apart.
When Asia Graham graduated from high school in 2019, she hoped the military would give her and her mother Nicole a better life.
She wanted to go in the military, make me her dependent, and have me staying in with her for the rest of my life.
Anthony Graham is Asia's brother.
Even though my mom was a mom, my sister tried to act like a mom.
Where do you think that sense of responsibility in her came from?
We just raised a wonderful girl.
That girl became a woman in uniform. In December 2019, she arrived at Fort Bliss in Texas, an 18-year-old soldier.
She was a very, very proud soldier, and her basic training's 1st sergeant loved her and praised her.
But she left the military draped in a flag. She'd been found dead on New Year's Eve 2020 in her barracks at age 19.
An initial Army press release said: "The Iron Eagle team is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and teammate."
But a second statement three days later, after a local news report, revealed a darker time in uniform. Graham reported she had been raped by a fellow member of her unit in December 2019. The Army said it launched a criminal investigation, separated her from her alleged attacker, and offered and encouraged medical help.
In Nicole's home, Nicole and Anthony Graham keep a photographic shrine, the happy daughter of a white mother and Black veteran, the smiling soldier, the confident girl, confidence that, they say, the Army extinguished.
That same glow that she had about the military, the same happiness wasn't there.
And they say what the Army claimed to have done to protect her isn't true, beginning with when she first approached her commanders.
She got raped by a fellow soldier in December. She reported it in February. She was told to shut up. And the rapist was in her barracks, in her company. And she had to see him.
Asia Graham's own words also suggest the Army didn't do what it claimed.
In a message obtained by "PBS NewsHour" that she sent to a friend four days before she died, she wrote: "I told my noncommissioned officer, and he didn't take it that serious." She writes, she then told a female sergeant, who admitted "She didn't speak up, and a similar situation happened to her when she first got here, too."
Graham told others who were more senior, but: "All they cared about was the Army doctrine and cover-up themselves. I really was asking for help and therapy. I just feel mistreated."
Graham moved in with her brother off-base to get away from her alleged attacker. The siblings had always been close. Anthony saw his sister's descent. She started drinking and taking pills, and became self-destructive. She got a DUI. She died of an overdose.
But, in counseling, Anthony says she was told not to tell anyone anything.
They heard her story. And then, right afterwards, they're like, all right, we just need you to shut up about this. Don't talk about it to nobody. Don't tell nobody about it. We're going to take care of it.
Last month, Fort Bliss charged Private 1st Class Christian Alvarado with raping Asia Graham in December 2019 and, five months later, raping another woman, and, three months after that, sexually assaulting a third woman. Per Army regulations, he's still on base, on active duty, and free.
Is what happened to Asia Graham typical?
Camilla Vance Shadley:
Yes. Who's responsible for the soldier's well-being? It's the chain of command. They didn't listen. And in this case, this survivor is dead.
Camilla Vance Shadley and her husband, retired Major General Robert Shadley, are with Never Alone Advocacy, a nonprofit that helps military victims of sexual assault.
Over the past decade, the number of reported victims has doubled, from 3,327 in 2010 to 7,825 in 2019. But the actual number of sexual assaults, including those not reported, is estimated to be 20,000.
Last year, an independent investigation found a permissive environment for sexual assault at Fort Hood and a lack of knowledge among commanders on when and how to report sexual assaults. At Fort Bliss, Graham faced the same challenges.
They actually are allowing the commands to make choices as to what rules they will follow, they won't. And Asia is the perfect one. Four people knew that she had complained.
It is not the chain of command's choice to whether to believe or not. Their responsibility is to report it to trained investigators to look into it to get the ground truth.
But Shadley says the buck doesn't stop with Graham's unit.
The commander at Fort Bliss should be held accountable in order to send a signal to the command and all the other division commanders, you better get involved.
Shadley knows this problem.
We, as leaders, have a responsibility to take care of our soldiers, and it breaks your heart when we don't.
In 1996, he commanded the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland when it became known that drill sergeants had been preying on young female trainees.
I have been told by hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers that they don't trust their chain of command. This is a force readiness issue.
I predict a young leader is going to stand up on the battlefield and say, follow me, and the soldiers are going to say, I don't think so.
In a statement to "PBS NewsHour," Fort Bliss says it's investigating when Graham originally reported to her commanders and — quote — "If indeed those leaders took no actions, then failure to act would be unacceptable."
But other service members say their leaders also take no action.
I have dedicated my life to the military.
In a viral TikTok video, a Marine says her commanding general allowed her perpetrator to stay in the service.
And this is exactly why (EXPLETIVE DELETED) females in the military (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kill themselves. This is exactly why nobody (EXPLETIVE DELETED) takes this seriously.
Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted the military has not effectively dealt with sexual assault.
We have been working at this a long time in earnest, but we haven't gotten it right.
I found the video deeply disturbing. I'm going to ask that her chain of command make sure that someone is looking out after her needs.
Last year, candidate Biden promised to tackle sexual assault in the military. At a fund-raiser, he said commanders should be removed from sexual assault reporting and prosecution decisions.
Pres. Joe Biden:
We have to change the culture of abuse in this country, especially in armed services. I would immediately appoint a commission of current and former military leaders, sexual assault survivors and their advocates, and sexual assault experts, and give them 90 days to make concrete recommendations to me, including on prosecution decisions.
But Shadley warns, the military may not follow through. And so he urges President Biden to demand results.
I believe the president should stick to his word, and say, I want you to fix it. If the current leadership ain't going to do it, gets somebody in there who will.
Back in Nicole Graham's home, what was once pride and hope in Asia's uniform is now regret that she ever allowed her daughter to put it on.
I really, really beat myself up that I signed the paperwork for her to go. When they recruit the kids, they say it's a family.
What kind of family lets people get raped and not taken care of the rapist? I wish I never would have signed the paper.
They are victims of a plague the military has known about for decades, but never cured.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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