A class action lawsuit filed by service members and veterans says that the Pentagon needs to change the way it addresses complaint of rape and sexual assault.
The suit, filed by two men and 15 women, wants an objective third party to oversee complaints of rape and sexual abuse, contending that military commanders are unable to do a competent job. The complaint asserts that “servicemen get away with rape and other sexual abuse,” and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “ran institutions in which perpetrators were promoted and where military personnel openly mocked and flouted the modest Congressionally mandated institutional reforms.”
The suit spells out in gruesome detail 16 incidents of alleged sexual assault, spanning nearly every branch of the military. According to the complaint, in many instances the victims of such abuse -- serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the Reserves -- had to continue working alongside their attackers even after they formally reported the incident to their commanders.
According to ABC, last year the military reported a staggering 3,292 instances of alleged sexual assault. Victims can either file a “restricted” complaint -- one that remains confidential and doesn't spur an investigation -- or an unrestricted report, which allows officials to investigate but doesn't ensure that the victim will remain anonymous.
Rape is an obviously devastating experience in and of itself, but the plaintiffs say that the military's handling of the situation makes an already terrible problem much worse.
“The problem of rape in the military is not only service members getting raped, but it’s the entire way that the military as a whole is dealing with it,” Panayiota Bertzikis, who says she was raped in 2006, and who is a plaintiff in the suit, told The Boston Globe. “The entire culture needs to be changed.”
Sarah Albertson, another plaintiff, says she was raped in 2006 by a Marine who held a higher rank than she did. When a friend finally reported the incident to commanders, they forbade her from discussing it with anyone else and ordered her to “respect” her attacker, since he was also her superior.
“I had friends, even people who were supposed to have my back telling me, 'It sucks, and it's wrong what they're doing to you, but at the same time you need to suck it up and not tell anybody because it'll make the Marine Corps look bad and it'll hurt recruitment efforts,'” Albertson told ABC.
The suit, filed in federal court in Virginia, seeks monetary damages in addition to a structural overhaul.