Army specialist in England upset over dismissal of her rape claim
November 11, 2007
When Army Spc. Ashley Miller found out that the man who allegedly raped her would not be prosecuted in a military court, she said she couldn’t help but relive the May night when, after some drinks at the RAF Menwith Hill club, she was attacked in her on-base dorm.
“I felt like I was being raped all over again,” the 24-year old recently wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
A staff judge advocate officer at Menwith Hill, an intelligence-gathering airbase in Yorkshire, England, said Miller’s rape accusation was investigated and later dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
The exact circumstances of the case remain unclear, as authorities would not discuss investigation specifics.
“The case was closed Aug. 24 after the extensive investigation did not turn up enough evidence to prosecute a case,” Capt. Ryan Oakley, 421st Air Base Group’s deputy staff judge advocate, wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. “We take every case seriously, thoroughly investigating all angles of a case.”
Miller said she was so distressed about her alleged rape on May 17 that she couldn’t even acknowledge it to herself. She now regrets waiting two days to report the attack to a military doctor.
“I felt ashamed,” she said about the incident.
Now, she wants to tell her story publicly in hopes of convincing other women to learn from her mistake and report sexual assaults promptly.
“I’m turning my bad experience into something that will help other women,” she said over the phone in early October. “I want women to come forward and not to be afraid. The more you wait, the more you blame yourself.”
A night to forget
Miller recalls that night in May in fine detail, which she described in a long e-mail.
She remembers drinking screwdrivers at the base club, and leaving one of the drinks out of her sight for a moment as she hugged some friends. Into her second screwdriver, she began to feel “funny,” she said.
“The room was kind of getting fuzzy and my legs felt like they were made of Jell-O. I decided it was probably best to go home and lay down,” she said.
Her memory goes hazy after that. She remembers putting on her pajamas before heading to bed and going to sleep. She awoke find to an airman she knew on top of her, holding her down, she said.
“I remember trying to scream or at least fight back, but I couldn’t move,” she said, adding that she felt pain in her left hand, legs and genitals. “I couldn’t do anything.”
She said she thought that she must have passed out, because the next memory she had was being in the shower, scrubbing herself vigorously.
“I broke down and curled up in a ball in the shower,” she said. “I was sobbing so hard and my body felt so ill that I vomited in the shower.”
Two days later, she made a medical appointment and told her story to a doctor who conducted a rape kit. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations was then called in to collect Miller’s unwashed clothing and bedding as part of the investigation into the alleged rape, she said.
Was it too late to report a rape?
Air Force authorities would not say what bearing prompt reporting of a sexual assault has on an investigation eventually becoming a prosecution.
“We have no statistics on trial efficiency versus date of reporting,” Lt. Col. Terry Bullard, commander of RAF Lakenheath’s Office of Special Investigations, wrote in an e-mail. “It’s important for victims to report as soon as possible, however this is too important of an issue to speculate on.”
Oakley, the Menwith Hill deputy SJA, also wouldn’t go into detail regarding Miller’s case since it didn’t result in charges against the accused.
Guidelines from the Mildenhall Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office urge victims to report sexual assault immediately and take other precautions to protect evidence, such as not bathing, changing clothes or brushing teeth.
A spokesman from the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said that an immediate report of sexual assault is always ideal but a time lapse shouldn’t stop victims from coming forward.
“In all cases, whether it be a sexual assault or any other crime, the more physical evidence that is collected, the greater the opportunity for conviction,” Joseph T. Farrell, director of training at coalition, wrote in an e-mail.
“However, a lack of or reduced amount of collected physical evidence in no way means that a conviction cannot be sought or obtained in a court of law,” Farrell added.
Unfinished business for alleged victim
Miller claims to have suffered post-traumatic stress following the rape, and she has since been transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for care, she said.
She has not given up on her case, and said she has recently retained British attorney Christopher Harrison to pursue the case in civil courts.
When Stars and Stripes contacted Harrison, he said British law prohibited him from confirming or denying any involvement with Miller’s case.
Because of Miller’s tenacity in her rape claim, three other victims at Menwith Hill — whose alleged rape cases also were thrown out — spoke to her about their ordeal, she said.
“Other women came forward to me because I was so vocal about it,” Miller said, adding that the legal office could have fought harder for her alleged rape to be tried at a court-martial.
She also said her Menwith Hill unit denied her convalescent leave after the alleged rape.
“I was told to suck it up and drive on,” she said.
Air Force public affairs officials would not say whether Miller’s request for leave was denied but said that there is no standard procedure for giving time off to a person who alleges rape, according to 501st Combat Support Wing spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Kristina Barrett.
Even though it’s too late for her, Miller said she’d like to see changes to the Air Force structures that she said have failed her and perhaps other victims.
“This is not just about me, it is about helping other women as well and trying to change the system that has failed so many of us for a supposed no-tolerance system,” she said.
Remember this after an assaultImmediately report any assault to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC)Never hesitate to get helpDo not bathe or clean upDo not change your clothesDo not brush your teeth or use mouthwashDo not use the bathroom, but if you must, save your urine for testingDo not eat or drink anythingDo not take or apply any type of medication to any injuriesDo not disturb or clean up the crime sceneInformation provided by RAF Mildenhall’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office