Equality Now and the Service Women’s Action Network mount campaign calling on U.S. authorities to reform the military justice system in cases of sexual assault
New York, NY – Yesterday, human rights organization Equality Now and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) launched a campaign calling on the U.S. government to better prevent sexual assault of military service women and men and improve survivors’ access to the justice and social services they rarely receive. The groups also called for a lowering of the unnecessarily high evidentiary burden needed to qualify for the health benefits they need to recover from these assaults. The campaign highlights the case of Ruth Moore, who was raped by her supervisor soon after joining the Navy in 1987. Procedure at the time dictated that criminal reports should be filed with command – in this case her rapist – so Ruth used an alternate option and told the base chaplain. Rather than receiving help, however, she was raped again by her supervisor in retaliation for reporting the crime. Ruth’s rapist was never charged or disciplined, and she was discharged from the Navy soon thereafter with a misdiagnosis of ‘borderline personality disorder’. As a result, Ruth suffers from PTSD and other health issues, but was repeatedly denied disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She fought tirelessly to obtain these benefits, and in 2010, more than 20 years after her assault, the VA finally acknowledged that she had been raped and was entitled to disability.
Approximately 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year and as few as 1 out of every 100 sexual assaults results in the conviction of the perpetrator. Though procedures have changed somewhat, service women and men are still required to report sexual assaults within their chain of command, rather than through an independent party. This often leads to conflicts of interest and abuses of power as both the victim and perpetrator may be under the same officer’s command. Commanders also have an incentive to downplay such assaults as they reflect poorly on the unit. And, though sexual assault and harassment cause the same rates of PTSD in women veterans as combat does in men, from 2008-2010 only 32% of PTSD claims related to sexual assault are approved by the VA, while 54% of overall PTSD claims are approved.
As Ruth testified at a July 2012 hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, “[i]n hindsight, it was easier for the military to get rid of me, than admit to a rape…This process took me 23 years to resolve, and I am one of the fortunate ones. It should not be this way. I am asking you, no – pleading with you, to please consider favorably the legislation that would prevent this from happening to others.”
In support of Ruth and the thousands of servicewomen like her, Equality Now and SWAN are calling on the Secretary of Defense and the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairs to:
- Reform the military justice system so that professional military prosecutors rather than the perpetrator’s command are responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual assault so that commanders do not wield undue and unmonitored influence over these cases.
- Allow military sexual assault survivors to access civil remedies so that like civilians, they can hold their employer – the U.S. military – accountable for sexual harassment and assault.
The campaign also calls on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the House and Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chairs to:
- Provide 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.
“Despite the Pentagon’s continuous assertions of a zero tolerance policy of sexual assault in the military, past and recent events provide strong evidence to the contrary. Equality Now and SWAN implore the government to move past ineffectual rhetoric and take action to stop the epidemic,” stated Lauren Hersh, NY Office Director of Equality Now.
To view the full text of the campaign, visit:
For more information on sexual assault in the military, read our fact sheet.
ABOUT EQUALITY NOW
Founded in 1992, Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world through the areas of Discrimination in Law, Sexual Violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Trafficking. By combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy, Equality Now works to ensure that governments enact and enforce laws and policies that uphold the rights of women and girls.
ABOUT THE SERVICE WOMEN’S ACTION NETWORK (SWAN)
SWAN is a civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN's vision is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without threat of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or assault. SWAN also seeks to reform veterans' services on a national scale to guarantee equal access to quality health care, benefits and resources for women veterans and their families.