Former Camp Pendleton Marine shares sex abuse story amid sweeping reforms targeting sex crimes

OCEANSIDE, Calif. - A former Camp Pendleton Marine who said she was sexually assaulted four times during her service is sharing her story as President Obama prepares to sign into law a sweeping series of reforms aimed at sexual assault in the military.

Obama also issued an ultimatum: progress must be made in a year or tougher reforms will be put in place.

As a Marine, Evelyn Thomas placed her trust in her fellow Marines at Camp Pendleton. It's a trust she said was violated.

"My superior officer came to my home and raped me," said Thomas.

In 1989, in a span of weeks, Thomas -- who is a lesbian -- said she was she was raped four times by higher-ranking Marines. Three of the assaults happened after a probe was started into her sexuality, she said.

"It was corrective rape. They were trying to convert me to being heterosexual," said Thomas.

She said her attacker told her this after one of the attacks: "He said to me, 'Who's going to believe you? You're a private and I'm a lance corporal. Everybody's going to think you're a slut.'"

Thomas said the rapes left her pregnant, leading to more harassment, stress and the premature birth of a baby son, who lived one day.

Thomas didn't report the crimes.

After five years in the Marines, she got out in 1991.

"It was fear of my life … fear of [what] will happen to me if I do report it," said Thomas.

The fear of retaliation is one issue addressed in the sweeping series of 30 provisions just passed by the Senate. The measures make retaliation against those who report assault a separate crime. It eliminates a five-year statute of limitations of sexual assault crimes and establishes minimum sentencing guidelines. It also strips commanders of the power to overturn sentences from court-martial trials

"It's historic and groundbreaking," said Tara Jones, who heads the National Women Veterans Association of America. "It sends a message there's going to be zero tolerance when it comes to sexual assault in the military … It also sends a message that victims can come forward."

The bill does not include a much-debated proposal to remove prosecution decisions from the chain of command and put them into the hands of specialized attorneys.

Thomas said that omission is disappointing.

"It's been in the chain of command, and look where we are now," said Thomas.

Many believe Obama will push for that proposal in a year if he doesn't see enough progress in the battle against military sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Thomas has begun advocating for military assault victims, helping with the creation of Mothers for Military Accountability, an attempt to engage victim's families in the issue.

Anyone interested in information is asked to send emails to thoma007@cougars.csusm.edu.

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