Family of dead soldier questions US Army’s handling of sexual assault and retaliation

National and World

FORT BLISS, Texas (NewsNation Now) — The family of a soldier found dead on New Year’s Eve is coming forward with allegations of sexual assault and retaliation within the U.S. Army. NewsNation took an in-depth look at the soldier’s death at Fort Bliss in Texas.

19-year-old Asia Graham reported a sexual assault to her supervisors. The accused soldier appeared in court on Thursday.

There are concerns of a larger issue within the branch of the military.

On Thursday, Pfc. Christian Alvarado was formally arraigned with a total of six charges that the military considers violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

One of those charges, under Article 120, stems from the reported sexual assault of Graham, on or about December 30, 2019. 

Graham’s family said they want justice for their daughter and they have so many questions.

“She was wonderful. She was kind, courageous. She loved family,” said her mother Nicole Graham. “Everybody that met her was impacted by her. If you were loved by Asia, you experienced a special love.”

“She was always just an example of what love is, what, like happiness is,” said her brother Anthony Graham.

In 2019, Asia Graham graduated high school and immediately enlisted in the Army following in her dad’s footsteps. He had served 20 years, with tours in Iraq, but had lost his life to cancer when Asia was just 10-years-old.

“She was a super soldier. She was proud to be a soldier,” Nicole said.

But just months after she joined the Army, her path took a drastic turn. She called her brother and said she needed help. He moved out to Texas to be with her.

“She was like out of character, like her, that the sunbeam, the happiness, the, I walked in the room and she lighted it up… dimmed,” Anthony said. “She’s like, listen, I got something to tell you.”

Asia told her brother that in December 2019, she’d been raped by another soldier on base.

“She tried to say it in a strong way, like, ‘Hey, this happened, but I’m about to get everything right,’” Anthony said.

The Army said that Asia Graham reported her assault on June 1, but Anthony said his sister reported the assault to her command four months earlier, in February.

Rich McHugh: You’re living with her in Texas and she would tell you, you know how it’s going? What, what did she tell you about their reaction?
Anthony: They don’t really care, that they just really just want her to just, tell her that they’re fine. Tell her that she’s fine. Move on in her life. Just shut up. Quit talking about it. You keep talking about it. That’s why you keep feeling about it. So just shut up about it. Keep it moving. Be quiet.
McHugh: They told her to shut up?
Anthony: Yeah. Keep it moving and all they wanted to care about was her saying that she’s fine. So, I guess they are the paperwork saying, ‘Oh, well she says she’s OK. She said she’s OK.’ But, or whatever, whatever. But she’s coming home and like, telling me how they just don’t care about her. Don’t care about her at all.
McHugh: You distinctly remember her saying, telling you, they told her to shut up?
Nicole: She told me that too.
Anthony: Yup.

Anthony moved back to North Carolina in July to help his mother recover from injuries sustained in a car accident, and Asia later moved from their apartment back into the Army barracks.

“The Army made her move back into the barracks,” Nicole said. “They punished her, they started punishing her. She had to call every hour. She wasn’t allowed to go off post. She was supposed to stay in her room and all of those restrictions on her because they wanted her to shut up.”

Retaliation for reporting sexual assault in the military is very real: according to the Department of Defense’s own records, 64% percent of soldiers who report sexual assault are retaliated against. 

“She started self-medicating. She started being drunk, more. Stuff like that. Like she did negative things to herself that she normally never did. Like, was totally out of character for her,” Nicole said.

Asia got a DUI and her family said she became suicidal.

“She had to see this man over and over and over and over again. And that’s when she was talking about like, how she broke, because she just felt used and left to think everything was OK and nobody was caring for her,” Anthony said.

Asia herself detailed the timeline, and all that she endured, in a chilling letter to her mother, sent on Dec. 27.

“I reported it in February.”

“I told my NCO sgt…”

“After that I started to hear myself being talked about…”

“All they cared about the army doctrine and cover up themselves”

“I was really asking for help.”

“He lived right down the hallway from me so getting out of my room everyday knowing I might have to see him and speak I got an apartment.”

“They made me move back on post and restricted me to my company area”

“I just feel mistreated and I reported it in February and I just now got IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy) therapy when I’ve been asking for therapy and guidance for the longest.”

“I never was like this and I’ve been asking for help, and my rapist still gets to walk around in the unit and it’s so crazy because it’s really feeling like I’m never going to get my peace.”

“I just feel stuck in the system just waiting for an answer. I want to be heard and they not hearing me.”

“Last conversation I had with her, she said, ‘mama, I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to fight.’ And she had lawyers,” Nicole said.

Three days later, on New Year’s Eve, Asia Graham was found unresponsive in her barrack at Fort Bliss.

“I can’t focus. I can’t concentrate. All I want is my daughter back,” Nicole said.

An entrance to Fort Bliss is shown on June 25, 2018 in Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/FILE)

The autopsy has not been released, but the Army said it remains under investigation, though they don’t suspect foul play.

Asia’s family feels the Army didn’t do enough to protect her.

“They are not trying to do nearly as much as what they need to do in order to fully get justice for my sister,” Anthony said.

“They’re trying to cover it up,” Nicole said.

“They’re just, just trying to sweep it under the rug and keep it moving. And I’m not allowing that,” Anthony said.

Amy Franck is a sexual assault advocate for the United States Army.

“Here again, we have an unprotected young service member that trusted the process and reported to her sexual assault. And now she’s deceased,” Franck said.

The Army hired her to help soldiers who report sexual assault and harassment, navigate the process and help protect their rights

McHugh: You’ve looked at Asia Graham’s case. You’ve spoken to her family. What, in your experience, in your understanding of her case, happened here?
Franck: The most horrific thing is that she was continually told allegedly by her company commander to ‘shut up about her rape.’ That she was in coming into constant contact with the alleged offender and told to stop talking about it. That’s horrifying. That she was basically pleading for help and told, we don’t want to hear about it. Just keep moving along.
McHugh: She reported the assault, according to her family and according to her own text messages. What should have happened?
Franck: A safety and risk assessment first. Separating the service members to ensure that they don’t come into contact and creating a safety plan to ensure that there is a clear plan of action. If the separation fails, that the victim knows what steps to take and where to go, and the command knows what their responsibility is and how that they can further protect the service member. If you have a soldier that continues to come in contact with their alleged offender and they’re seeking behavioral health care to the point where the behavioral health professional thinks that they need to be on psychotropic meds, her safety and risk factor should have been reassessed and they should have stood up what’s called a high-risk response team in order to ensure that everything was properly in place to protect her and to give her some security. So, I question if that was ever done.

The Army declined to be interviewed for this story.

They have yet to answer a number of NewsNation’s questions but said a military protective order was put in place, an investigation was conducted and charges were proffered against the alleged offender on Oct. 22.

Franck said the Army suspended her when she reported some of her findings up the chain of command. 

McHugh: I’m sure it would be much easier for you, in your current role, not to speak out publicly. And yet you’ve decided to — why?
Franck: Because I can’t continue to sit quietly knowing that the process is harming the service members to the point where they’re languishing in such sorrow, that they are committing suicide and are not protected. They trust the process and the process is harming them. Allow transparency to occur, stop redacting investigations, stop doing internal investigations. Protect their reporting victim, let due process carry itself out and just be kind and decent to other human beings that are reaching out to you in their trauma.
McHugh: And that would solve this?
Franck: Yeah, it’s really easy. I want to be extremely, crystal clear. I love the military. You know, my grandfather was a World War II vet, a Bronze star. My dad is a retired colonel. My son is a vet. Both of my uncles were veterans. You know, my other uncles served in Vietnam. I love the military and they’re supposed to be a family. And it’s like, they’re protecting the offenders instead of the reporting victims.

McHugh: The Army announced that they are going to court-martial this soldier. Does that feel like any sort of justice?

“No. 0%. What is that, what is that? That is nothing. That is what is, that’s like a slap on the wrist, honestly,” Anthony said.

“They failed her, they just failed her and she didn’t deserve that. She was such a wonderful young lady. She didn’t deserve none of that,” Anthony said.

The Graham family had been waiting for the Army to release Asia’s body to them so they can have a funeral and begin to move forward.

But, they vow to fight.

“They’re playing with my emotions. Just give me my daughter, let me lay her to rest and tell me what the autopsy said. Give me her stuff. So I can look through her paperwork. Cause she had three binders prepared. I want to see that paperwork. I want to see what my daughter worked on and I will keep having a voice for my daughter for as long as I live,” Nicole said.

Nicole Graham told NewsNation on Thursday night that the Army had returned Asia’s body to the family.

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