In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, fourteen current and former members of the U.S. military reported that that the Pentagon “turned a blind eye” while they were sexually harassed, assaulted and raped while on active duty by fellow military officers. The numbers of reported sexual assaults in the military are increasing, while even the Pentagon admits that many are still never reported or charged. An estimated one in four of these cases are criminally prosecuted.
The lawsuit alleges that the Pentagon enabled rapists by refusing to reform a sexist culture or aggressively ensure that retaliation against women who filed complaints would not be an issue. The suit specifically names Robert Gates and his predecessors, Donald Rumsfeld, as defendents, saying that they failed to deal with the problem.
In some incredibly disturbing testimony, one of the women claimed that she was drugged and gang-raped by two of her colleages while serving at an Oklahoma air force base – and that this happened only two months ago.
Another woman said that within weeks of being deployed to Baghdad, she was attacked in a bathroom by a former sergeant. Her commander’s response was to reassign the assaulter and to tell her that “this stuff happens.”
Yet another woman was raped by a colleague on her last day in Afghanistan. He took pictures of the assault, which she was horrified to later find on a pornographic website. Other women who complained to their commanders about assaults were told that they “did not act like a rape victim” and “did not struggle enough.” Unbelievably, some men were not charged because authorities did not want to delay their scheduled return to the United States.
According to NBC, the suit alleges that government officials did not move actively against these cases, in some cases allowing rapists to go unpunished:
“[The suit] charges, for example, that Rumsfeld in 2004 delayed naming members to a commission mandated by Congress to investigate the military’s handling of sexual assault cases and resisted congressional oversight of the issue. It accuses Gates of violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by permitting military commanders to use “nonjudicial punishments” for accused rapists — and failing to meet a congressionally mandated deadline for creating a database that would centralize all reports of rapes and sexual assaults.”
Women’s rights advocates have been calling for strong reforms within the military’s sexist culture, which allows sexual assault to be inflicted with a shocking amount of impunity, for years.
“A lawsuit like this is needed because change cannot happen on the inside. DoD has had literally decades, perhaps more, to change the culture within the military. They’ve proven that they can’t, and even the minor changes they’ve made the last few years are so superficial,” the director of the Service Women’s Action Network explained.
“It’s sad in a way that you have to file a lawsuit to get their attention,” said one of the plaintiffs. But if that’s what it takes, these women deserve even more praise for standing up to a misogynistic establishment and demanding that such horrific violence end.
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