United States: Sexual assault of women in the military must be stopped

20 AUGUST 2013 UPDATE: Recent developments indicate some Congressional and military momentum to address sexual assault in the military:

On 15 August, the US Department of Defense (DOD) gave an update on sexual assault prevention and response measures, during which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s seven new initiatives to “strengthen and standardize the department’s sexual assault prevention and response effort” were outlined. Though Equality Now welcomes the DOD’s acknowledgment of the seriousness of the issue, the initiatives do not make the structural changes needed for violence to be prevented and for victims to access justice. As our partner SWAN stated, “small-scale military sexual assault solutions will not stem the cultural tide created by years of victim blaming and retaliation." Therefore we will continue to advocate for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) which would professionalize the military justice system and bring much needed justice to victims of sexual assault. Senator Gillibrand will be calling for a full Senate floor vote on the MJIA bill following the August Congressional recess. If you are in the US, please ask your Senator to support passage of this bill.

We are also encouraged by the House of Representatives’ passage in July of two amendments in the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 (HR 2397), offered by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), relating to the handling of sexual assault cases. This follows a recent report by the DOD Inspector General who found serious failures in the handling of military sexual assault investigations. Out of 501 investigations, 418 had “deficiencies” which compromised the victim’s chance of obtaining justice, and, overall, 399 of these cases had interview and post-interview deficiencies. Weaknesses were found in the interview process, collection of evidence, lead development and crime scene photography. The amendments address the pervasive misuse of ‘personality and adjustment disorder’ as a diagnosis of victims of sexual assault and provide additional funding to train investigators of sexual assault crimes. We hope the Senate will also show bi-partisan support for those that have suffered sexual assault in the US military by passing this bill.


24 MAY 2013 UPDATE: On 7 May, the US Department of Defense released their 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.  The report plainly showed that efforts to combat sexual assault in the military are not having the desired effect, and in fact, sexual violence and the culture of impunity are getting worse. Shockingly, the number of reported sexual assaults rose in every branch of the military with a 35% increase overall since 2010, from 19,300 service members in 2010 to 26,000 in 2012. Coming on the heels of the arrest for sexual battery of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of US Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, and followed by revelations that two other US Army sexual assault prevention officers were accused of sex crimes, including an allegation linking one to a prostitution ring, it is abundantly clear that current efforts to address sexual assault in the US military are not being taken seriously.

Therefore, Equality Now welcomed the 16 May introduction of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a bi-partisan bill which would remove the power to prosecute sexual assault from military commanders and transfer it to professional prosecutors. Equality Now and our partner SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network) have been consistently advocating for this reform and will be following the bill closely as it moves through the legislative process to ensure that sexual assault victims have access to justice in the military.


13 FEBRUARY 2013 UPDATE: Senator Jon Tester and Representative Chellie Pingree introduced the “Ruth Moore Act of 2013.” Named in recognition of Navy veteran, military sexual assault survivor and activist Ruth Moore (subject of our Action), the bill would lower the evidentiary burden needed to prove service-related PTSD for survivors so that they can receive benefits and necessary services from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The passage of this bill would fulfill one of the three objectives of Equality Now's campaign, and we will be following this process closely as it progresses.


Equality Now has just issued an Action calling on the United States Government to better prevent the sexual assault of women in the U.S. military and enable survivors to access justice and services. Approximately 19,000 sexual assaults take place in the U.S. military each year; Ruth Moore, at the age of 18, survived two of them. Ruth was raped by her commander while stationed abroad with the Navy. She reported this rape, but instead of receiving help she was raped again by her commander in retaliation for reporting. Her rapist was never charged or disciplined. Ruth suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from these assaults and applied for disability benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA). Her benefits were denied multiple times because she could not prove she was raped, but after 20 years the VA finally acknowledged that she had been raped and was entitled to disability benefits. Ruth is now actively advocating for the rights of the many military sexual assault survivors.

Service women raped by fellow service members rarely obtain justice or the services they need to recover. This is due to the multitude of obstacles rape survivors face in pursuing justice, including in reporting the crime, getting a thorough and impartial investigation, and seeing their rapist/assailant face appropriate charges and punishment. In addition, the many survivors who suffer from PTSD face an unnecessarily high burden in proving their assault and qualifying for benefits from the government, which deprives them of the services they need to recover.

Please join Equality Now and our partner the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in calling on U.S. government officials to live up to their domestic and international obligations by:

  • Reforming the military justice system so that professional military prosecutors – not the perpetrator’s command – are responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual assault. Several countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada, have recently reformed their military justice systems in this manner so that commanders do not wield undue (and unmonitored) influence over sexual assault cases.
  • Providing survivors suffering from PTSD stemming from their sexual assault with the services they need to recover from their trauma by lowering the unnecessarily high evidentiary burden they face in order to prove their assault and access disability benefits.
  • Allowing survivors of sexual assault in the military to access civil remedies so that they, like civilians, can hold their employer – the U.S. military – accountable for sexual harassment and assault.

 

Letter Regarding Civil Remedies

The Honorable Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense


Congressman Buck McKeon

House Armed Services Committee, Chair


Senator Carl Levin

Senate Armed Services Committee, Chair


Senator Patrick Leahy

Senate Judiciary Committee, Chair


Congressman Lamar Smith

House Judiciary Committee, Chair


Letter Regarding Reform of the Justice System

The Honorable Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense


Congressman Buck McKeon

House Armed Services Committee, Chair


Senator Carl Levin

Senate Armed Services Committee, Chair


Letter to Veterans' Affairs

The Honorable Erik Shinseki

Secretary of Veterans' Affairs


The Honorable Allison Hickey

Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans' Affairs


Congressman Jeff Miller

House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Chair


Senator Patty Murray

Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Chair


To learn more about the campaign & for a list of full contact information for the government officials above, see:
http://www.equalitynow.org/take_action/sexual_assault_in_the_military_action441