EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The mother of the late-Asia Graham, who served in the Army and was stationed at Fort Bliss before her death on post on New Year’s Eve has strong emotions about the last couple of months.
“If I had a daughter again and she told me she wanted to join the military, I would fight tooth and nail to not let that happen,” says Nicole Graham, mother of Private First Class Asia Graham.
Graham spoke with KTSM 9 News after her daughter’s accused rapist Christian Alvarado was convicted of sexually assaulting Asia and another woman. He was also found guilty of other charges.
Alvarado was sentenced to 18 years and three months in jail for his offenses. He was also dishonorably discharged from the military, and must enter the sex offender registry upon his release.
The sexual assault of Graham and several others is raising awareness into the pervasiveness of military sexual assault in the United States.
Last week, Fort Bliss topped the list of military bases at high-risk for sexual assault.
Advocates and legislators are calling for federal action to help support survivors in need.
Graham hopes no one ends up like her daughter.
“She self-medicated and died of an accidental overdose,” says Graham.
Graham says that her daughter’s initial report of sexual assault went unheard by command in February. And, Asia re-reported the assault in June around the same time a second soldier alleged she was also sexually assaulted by Alvarado, she added.
Pfc. Graham was ordered to remain in the same Barracks as Alvarado, where she saw him everyday. Graham said the continued close contact with her rapist was detrimental to Pfc. Graham’s mental health.
During the court martial, Pfc. Graham’s brother testified to coming to live with his sister after the assault and remembered having to restrain her as she self-injured on a sidewalk.
Pfc. Graham started receiving outpatient mental and behavioral healthcare at the end of 2020 shortly before her death.
“When she got outpatient treatment, she got better,” says Graham. “On the 27th we had a phone conversation, and she told me ‘Mommy, I’m ready to fight.’ And then four days later, she was dead.”
Legislators are hoping to pass federal legislation to address military sexual assault as it pertains to members of the Department of Defense.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been working for almost a decade to pass legislation to reform how military sexual assault is handled. Gillibrand’s efforts were never openly-endorsed by President Barack Obama, but have been championed by President Biden and Senators who formerly voted against the legislation.
Gillibrand’s bill would remove the military chain of command from making prosecution decisions when it comes to service members, which would mean big changes for the military justice system.
Gillibrand’s bill is being challenged by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and James M. Inhofe (R-OK) who lead the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.
Last week, Gillibrand’s bill was again on the Senate floor, where two GOP senators sought to have the bill voted on by the full Senate, avoiding the Armed Services Committee.
Advocates for the bill — including Gillibrand — say they fear leaving the bill up to the committee is not in the best interest for survivors of military sexual assault.
“The committee has failed survivors over the last 10 years,” Ms. Gillibrand, 54, said on the floor. “And I do not think it is in their purview to make this ultimate decision.”