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

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Date: 
2 Oct 2012
Update Date: 
13 Feb 2013
ПОСЛЕДНЯЯ ИНФОРМАЦИЯ: 

10 MAY 2016 UPDATE:  On 5 May, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its 2015 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, and the results are alarming:  Military Services received  6,083 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects in 2015. 4,736 service members reported being raped or sexually assaulted while in the military. However, it is almost certain that these numbers don’t represent the whole picture as sexual assaults in the military are vastly underreported. A 2014 DoD commissioned study estimated that 20,300 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in that year alone.

And victims who do report rarely see their abusers punished. Only 7% of perpetrators received courts-martial or discharge in 2015, and 2012 and 2014 studies found that 62% of service member victims of sexual assault report retaliation after reporting the crime. Another recently released study noted 91 reports of sexual assault in military service academies in 2015, underscoring the fact that attacks are not confined to war zones.

The Pentagon has always insisted that it takes a zero tolerance approach to sexual assault in the military, but this is clearly untrue. In April 2016, an Associated Press investigation shockingly found that the 
Pentagon used “inaccurate or vague information” to convince Congress not to pass a law which would give more power to civilian courts to handle military cases. It also found that the military used misleading or incomplete information in about 93 sexual assault cases.

We welcome the Department of Defense’s new Strategy to prevent retaliation associated with reporting sexual assault or harassment as an important step, but it is not enough. The 
bill in question, supported by Equality Now and our partner, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in 2013 and died twice on the Senate floor. Now we are calling for it to be incorporated into this year’s upcoming National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 in order to pass.

Senator Gillibrand’s bill would provide the structural changes needed to ensure meaningful access to justice for survivors, removing the power to prosecute sexual assault from military commanders and transferring it to professional prosecutors.
 
Please join us by Taking Action today!

For more information, read our Sexual Assault in the Military Fact sheet


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.


 

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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 enlisted in the U.S. Navy during her senior year of high school in search of a better life. Her family couldn’t afford college and the military was her best chance at obtaining a college degree. In 1987, after boot camp and service school, Ruth was posted overseas in the Azores. Less than three months after arriving, her direct supervisor raped her and infected her with a sexually transmitted disease. Ruth reported this rape to the chaplain, whose role is to provide counseling and assistance. To her knowledge, her rapist was never investigated. The only response to her outcry was retaliation – Ruth was raped a second time by her supervisor.

Without any way to access help, Ruth became depressed and attempted suicide. After surviving this attempt, she went to the chaplain again seeking assistance. She was sent back to the US, placed in a psychiatric unit and wrongfully diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which was a common diagnosis given to military sexual assault victims at the time. She was discharged from the Navy. It was easier for the military to get rid of her than to admit that she’d been raped. Ruth’s rapist was never charged or disciplined. From her sexual assaults, Ruth suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including panic attacks, migraine headaches and insomnia. She applied for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) multiple times, but was denied. She was told she could not obtain benefits because she did not submit enough evidence to prove she was raped; she continued to challenge this assertion and fight for her rights. Finally in 2010, over 20 years after her assault, the VA 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.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Women are an integral and dynamic part of the U.S. military, and have served their country since the American Revolution. Women make up more than 14% of the U.S. Armed Services and more than 280,000 U.S. women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. But despite their contributions and sacrifices, the U.S. military continues to be a hostile environment for women. Sexual assault and harassment in the military is fueled by the widespread gender-based discrimination within the U.S. military and exacerbated by policies and practices which victim-blame, don’t allow for the civil remedies available to non-military Americans, and fail to hold perpetrators accountable. For example, studies show that men in the military are more likely to believe in traditional sex-role attitudes and in rape myths, such as women “ask for it,” than a comparable group of civilian men. In military units where sexual harassment is tolerated or initiated by senior officers, incidents of rape triple or quadruple.

Service women raped by fellow service members rarely obtain justice or the services they need to recover. Approximately 1 out of every 100 sexual assaults in the military results in the conviction of the perpetrator. 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 assailant face appropriate charges and punishment.

Instead of an independent party, an officer within the perpetrator’s chain-of-command is charged with investigating sexual assault complaints and is given an enormous amount of discretion. This discretion leads to conflicts of interest and abuse of power, especially as both the survivor and perpetrator may be under the same officer’s command. Commanders also have an incentive to downplay or cover-up sexual assaults happening within their chain-of-command, as these crimes reflect poorly on the unit. Survivors must obtain justice through the military justice system. Unlike civilians, they cannot seek to hold their employer – the U.S. military - accountable through civil litigation for failing to protect them from sexual assault or harassment.


RESOURCE: Download our Fact Sheet on Sexual Assault in the Military (pdf)


Sexual assault and harassment causes the same rates of PTSD in women veterans as combat does in men. However, sexual assault survivors face particular challenges in accessing disability benefits from the VA as VA employees often disbelieve survivors’ accounts of assault – even when backed up by physician’s reports – and require evidence from other sources that corroborate the survivor’s account. Tellingly, only 32% of PTSD claims related to sexual assault are approved by the VA, while 54% of overall PTSD claims are approved. The VA must lower the evidentiary burden needed to prove service-related PTSD and accept the survivor’s testimony alone as proof that the sexual assault occurred.

The failure to protect service women from sexual assault while in the military and to enable survivors to obtain justice and services violates the United States’ international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires States to protect fundamental human rights that are commonly violated in these cases – including equal protection of the law, the right to be free from discrimination (including gender-based violence), and the right to an effective remedy. In her June 2011 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women noted the “prevalent incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment” in the U.S. military and called on the United States to “ensure the effective implementation of a no-tolerance policy for rape…in the military, [and] ensure adequate investigation of all allegations by an independent authority.”

The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is actively campaigning against impunity for sexual assault in the military and working to address the needs of survivors like Ruth, so that others don’t have to wait more than 20 years to obtain the help they need. Given that years of Congressional hearings, taskforces and reports have made no discernible change, it is clear that more assertive actions must be taken to better prevent sexual assault and enable survivors to access justice and services.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Please join Equality Now and our partner SWAN in calling on:


The Secretary of Defense and the House & Senate Armed Services Committee Chairs to:
  • Reform 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.

 Send letters to:

The Hon. Ashton B. Carter
Secretary of Defense
Office of the Sec. of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Tel: +1(703) 571-3343
Fax: +1(703) 571-8951
Email: ashton.carter@osd.mil

Congressman Mac Thornberry
House Armed Service Committee Chair
U.S. House of Representatives
2208 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Tel: +1(202) 225-3706
Fax: +1(202) 225-3486
Facebook: www.facebook.com/repmacthornberry
Twitter: @MacTXPress

Senator John McCain
Senate Armed Service Committee Chair
U.S. Senate
218 Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: +1(202) 224-2235
Fax: +1(202) 228-2862
Facebook: www.facebook.com/johnmccain
Twitter: @SenJohnMcCain

The Secretary of Defense, the House & Senate Armed Services Committee Chairs, and the House & Senate Judiciary Committee Chairs to:

  • Allow 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.

 Send letters to:

The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Congressman Mac Thornberry, Senator John McCain (contacts listed above)

Senator Chuck Grassley
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair
U.S. Senate
135 Hart Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-3744
Fax: 202-224-6020
Facebook: www.facebook.com/grassley
Twitter: @ChuckGrassley

Congressman Bob Goodlatte
House Judiciary Committee Chair
U.S. House of Representatives
2309 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Tel: 202-225-5431
Fax: 202-225-9681
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BobGoodlatte
Twitter: @RepGoodlatte

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the House & 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.

 Send letters to:

The Hon. Robert A. McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Tel: +1(800) 827-1000
Email:  robert.a.mcdonald@va.gov, Bob.mcdonald@va.gov

The Honorable Danny Pummill
Acting Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Tel: 1.800.827.1000
Email: Danny.pummill@va.gov

Congressman Jeff Miller
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chair
U.S. House of Representatives
336 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Tel: +1(202) 225-4136
Fax: +1(202) 225-3414
Facebook: www.facebook.com/RepJeffMiller

Senator Johnny Isakson
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chair
U.S. Senate
131 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: +1(202) 224-3643
Fax: +1(202) 228-0724
Twitter: @SenatorIsakson

Letters: 

Letter Regarding Reform of the Justice System

Dear Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter:
 
I am deeply concerned about the alarmingly high rate of sexual assault within the U.S. military and that service members who sexually harass and assault their fellow service women are doing so freely. At least 20,000 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in 2014 and as few as one out of every 100 sexual assaults results in a conviction.
 
This low conviction rate is due to the multitude of obstacles rape survivors face in pursuing justice, including in reporting the crime, thorough and impartial investigations, and seeing rapists/assailants charged and punished. Since officers within the perpetrator’s chain-of-command are the ones investigating sexual assault complaints, conflicts of interest and abuses of power flourish, especially where  both the survivor and perpetrator are under the same officer’s command. And as these crimes reflect poorly on the unit, commanders have an incentive to downplay or cover-up sexual assaults.
 
The failure to protect service women from sexual assault while in the military, to ensure justice for survivors, and to enable survivors to obtain justice and services violates the United States’ international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I urge you to reform the military justice system so that professional military prosecutors – not the perpetrator’s command – are responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual assault, along the lines of reforms the United Kingdom and Canada have recently implemented.
 

 

Sincerely,
 

cc:
Congressman Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee, Chair
Senator John McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee, Chair

Letter Regarding Civil Remedies

Dear Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter:
 
I am deeply concerned about the alarmingly high rate of sexual assault within the U.S. military and those service members who sexually harass and assault their fellow service women are doing so freely. At least 20,000 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in 2014 and as few as one out of every 100 sexual assaults results in a conviction.
 
This low conviction rate is due to the multitude of obstacles rape survivors face in pursuing justice, including in reporting the crime, thorough and impartial investigations, and seeing rapists/assailants charged and punished. Unlike civilians, military rape survivors have no way of holding their employer – the U.S. military – accountable through civil litigation for failing to protect them from sexual assault or harassment.
 
The failure to protect service women from sexual assault and to ensure justice for survivors violates the United States’ international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
I strongly urge you to revise U.S. military policies so that service women can obtain justice for harassment and sexual violence.  It is vital that allow survivors are able to access civil remedies so that they, like civilians, can hold their employer accountable.

 

Sincerely,
 

cc:
Congressman Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee, Chair
Senator John McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee, Chair
Senator Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee, Chair
Congressman Bob Goodlatte, House Judiciary Committee, Chair

Letter to Veterans' Affairs

Robert A. McDonald
Secretary of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Dear Secretary McDonald:
 
I am deeply concerned about the alarmingly high rate of sexual assault within the U.S. military and the many obstacles sexual assault survivors face in accessing the services they need to recover -- at least 20,000 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in 2014 alone!
 
Sexual assault and harassment causes the same rates of PTSD in women veterans as combat does in men, but sexual assault survivors continue to face challenges in accessing disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA often disbelieve survivors’ accounts of assault – even when backed up by a physician’s report – and require evidence from other corroborating sources. Tellingly, only 32% of sexual assault PTSD claims are approved by the VA, while 54% of overall PTSD claims are approved.
 
Servicewomen are being re-victimized by this disbelief and failure to provide much needed services. The VA must lower the evidentiary burden and accept survivor’s testimony alone as proof that a sexual assault occurred. The failure to protect service women from sexual assault and to ensure justice and services for survivors violates the United States’ international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
I strongly urge you to revise your policy so that survivors suffering from sexual assault-related PTSD receive the services they need without delays, and to lower the unnecessarily high evidentiary burdens they face.
 

Yours sincerely,

cc: 
The Honorable Danny Pummill, Acting Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs
Senator Johnny Isakson, Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Chair
Congressman Jeff Miller, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Chair