A local Marine Corps veteran who was sexually assaulted while serving in the military is speaking out about her experience as lawmakers take on the issue of how sexual assault in the military should be prosecuted.
Saturday was a tough day for Marine Corps veteran Everlyn Thomas. They day marked 23 years since the death of her newborn son, Taj.
Thomas says she was raped by four Marines while on active duty more than two decades ago and became pregnant. She says that when she reported the rape, she was retaliated against.
“The four marines, my rapist, put me through emotional, physical and mental abuse,” Thomas told NBC 7.
Thomas was just six months into her pregnancy when Taj was born in June 1990. The newborn lived only one day.
“I went from elation, to numbness, to anger,” she recalled.
Thomas’ story, though it happened long ago, is a topical one.
This week, legislators debated how to tackle the problem of sex assault in the military, and whether or not prosecution decisions should be taken outside the chain of command.
“It’s harder to hold someone accountable for failure to act if you reduce their power to act,” said Michigan Senator Carl Levin earlier this week.
“It’s simply the right thing to do and it has been done throughout the world by our closest military allies,” added New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
NBC 7 sat down with the Navy’s Chief spokesman in San Diego this week, RDML John Kirby.
Kirby says rape in the military is a top concern at Navy headquarters.
On Friday the House passed a defense bill that included changes to military law related to sexual assault, and there are a number of other proposals currently being debated.
A measure that would have given military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assaults to try was stripped out of the Senate's defense bill earlier this week.
“This is about power and dominance, and that gets right to the heart of the cultural aspect of it and how challenging it really is,” Kirby told NBC 7.
Kirby insists that military commanders must not be removed from the justice process entirely.
“We’re willing to work with the Congress moving forward to try to find solutions here, but we also – and the chiefs made this very clear – believe the authority of a commander to preserve good order and discipline in his unit.”
However, Thomas says command involvement is part of the problem.
“The chain of command has demonstrated their inability to prosecute these military criminals time and time again and the chain of command has demonstrated their ability to punish the men and women that have the courage to report the sexual assaults,” she said.
While legislatures debate how they should change law about sexual assault in the military the Navy says they’ve been working to address the issue.
As one example, the Navy has been holding Navy-wide training in the form of command stand-downs. Those started last week and will continue through July.