Vancouver woman's story of military rape told before Senate panel

PORTLAND, Ore. - A Vancouver woman has a message for senior military leaders: current military sexual assault policies don't work.

Tina Clemans' daughter, Myah Bilton-Smith, was raped while serving in the Air Force.

Tina was asked to write a letter to U.S. Senate leaders, which became part of the official record in Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The hearing brought military leaders to Capitol Hill, including Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Our daughter and countless silent others deserve better, they deserve action. Here. Now," said Tina, reading from her letter.

Tina didn't think she'd ever have to write those words on behalf of her daughter.

"Allowing chain of command to oversee proceedings, cases and victims, cost lives," she wrote.

Much less did she think she would write those words to Senate leaders encouraging them to make changes to military policies for sexual assault.

"As a loved one of someone who had to sit by and watch her just suffer when she only wanted to serve, it was the hardest thing I think I'll ever probably have to go through," Tina said during an interview.

A woman named Nancy Parrish, president of the group, Protect Our Defenders, asked Tina to write the letter a couple weeks ago when she found out she would testify before the Armed Services Committee.

Nancy briefly shared Myah's story before lawmakers and military officials.

"A mom reported in April 2012, 'service members gave our daughter cigarettes laced with embalming fluid and raped her. She was locked up, denied requests for expedited transfer. Weeks later,an Article 15, an attempt to discharge with errant medical diagnoses,'" Nancy read.

But Myah's story doesn't end there. Records show she never had a rape kit done after that first attack. And she was raped again days after being released from a psychiatric hospital in retaliation for telling her commanding officers.

"There's so much that people just look through," said Myah during an interview Tuesday in Southeast Portland. "Like they look through me as if I was not there."

Tina has records that show that three generals, including Air Force Gen. Edward Rice were notified about Myah's attacks and didn't do anything. She believes polices currently in place failed her.

"Every single person that they said you need to go to, we went to," Tina said. "And they did nothing, even when we had the proof that there was no investigation the first time."

Myah and her mother think the only way to help victims feel safe enough to report rapes is to take the chain of command out of the equation.

"Instead of granting her that expedited transfer, it was denied. It was denied it even existed," said Tina.

The committee is considering seven legislative proposals, including one introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would deny commanders the authority to decide when criminal charges are filed and remove the ability of senior officers to convene courts-martial.

Dempsey and the service chiefs warned against making the dramatic changes called for in Gillibrand's legislation. Removing commanders from the military justice process, Dempsey said, would undercut their ability to preserve good order and discipline in their units.

Myah's mother said she knows there are people in the military who do follow policy on reporting sex assaults. She said some of them actually helped her get documents to prove Myah's case was initially swept under the rug.

Myah said that knowing that lawmakers heard her story gives her hope shes helping other people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.