The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
According to the Defense Sexual Trauma Response Oversight and Good Governance (STRONG)Act, posted on the Military Rape Crisis Center web site, privileged communication between sexual assault victims and the onsite military victim advocates is not effective in protecting the rights of the victims:
Currently the conversations between victims and Victim Advocates can be subpoenaed in court. This puts a victim at great risk of having something they told their Victim Advocate in confidence used against them in court, in support of the defendant or a defense witness. This creates a chilling effect on victims, making them afraid to come forward and speak to Victim Advocates because of the risk of that information being forced to be made public, and potentially, used against them. This is especially harmful in the military, where soldiers work together, live together, and are in a very close-knit community, and where information about fellow soldiers spreads rapidly. Enacting privileged communication between victims and Victim Advocates is critical to ensuring that victims come forward and get the services they need, and guarantees that those attempts have confidential protection.
It is in light of this pertinent information that 17 female military veterans filed a class-action lawsuit against the Pentagon and their superiors for ignoring their allegations of sexual assault by men with whom they. In many cases, the women were threatened with verbal abuse and/or involuntary discharge from service if they made they reported the assaults.
One woman was raped by two men in her unit who videotaped the assault and distributed it to colleagues. When she lodged a complaint, her commander told her that she didn’t act as if she was raped and refused to file charges against her rapists.
Another one was raped by a fellow sergeant who took photos of the rape and posted them on line at HotMilitaryGirls.com. She also filed charges, which were ignored because there was a lack of evidence.
But according to the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, “Sexual assault has no place in our armed forces and that’s why the department is committed to programs that focus on preventing the crime from ever occurring and programs that support the victims of sexual assault” (2011, Meg Alexander).
Panayiota Bertzikis, who was raped in 2006 and is now director of the Military Crisis Center, reveals that “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.” And the military deals with it by not dealing with it. After Bertzikis filed her complaint, her rape was never investigated, and she was forced to continue living and sleeping in the same building and floor with her assailant. On top of being raped, having her rape silenced and swept under the military rug, and forced to face her rapist daily, she was also inundated with others calling her a whore and a liar.
According to the Service Women’s Action Network, (who also have a petition you can sign to help end sexual assaults in the military), said that “the Defense Department’s own statistics show that fewer than one in five of these cases are even referred for court martial…unit commanders are the judge and the jury in these types of cases. Too often…perpetrators are given non-judicial punishments” (Anuradha Bhagwati).
The lawsuit filed against the Pentagon is long over due, and a critical and effective way to hold the US Military accountable for tolerating sexual assaults against its female soldiers. It is the only way, it seems, to redress the way military commanders are dealing with rape allegations. By not dealing with the complaints of sexual assault lodged against the men in the military, the rape victims and their rapists are sent the same message: women don’t matter; their bodies are free for the taking, their service to our country is irrelevant, and their voices can easily be silenced. But this is no longer the case. And it’s about time.