by Kristina Derro
Veterans Disability Attorney
Sixteen men and women who were raped and assaulted during active service filed a recent lawsuit against the Pentagon. The lawsuit accuses the military of condoning a culture that fails to prosecute the offenders of sex crimes and instead punishes the sexual assault victims who come forward to report the incidents.
According to a recent report by the Department of Defense (DOD), last year 3,158 sexual assaults were reported by men and women in the Armed Forces. The DOD estimates that this number reflects only about 13.5% of the total number of assaults on men and women in active duty last year. Experts say that the number of reported sexual assaults in the military is so low because of the fact that victims often receive pressure from supervisors and peers to not report anything. Further, once reports are made, the victims are often viewed as “troublemakers”, the sexual offenders are rarely disciplined by the military, and the victims often get transferred out of his/her military occupational specialty and into a new job—instead of forcing the sexual offender to be relocated. Seeing victims treated in this manner acts as a deterrent in the reporting of sexual assaults by other victims.
Adding to the problem is that while sexual trauma victims are in the military, they are away from family and friends who are the traditional support system in times of stress. Instead, the victims have to rely on receiving their support entirely from the military itself—the same establishment that refuses to acknowledge the problem or punish the offender.
VA health care systems have seen a large influx in military sexual trauma survivors. So much so that several VA medical centers have employed social workers on a full-time basis whose only job is to counsel those victims of military sexual trauma. There is movement afoot in the Armed Services to start training active duty members at an early age, even beginning in boot camp, about how to prevent sexual assault and how to intervene if they see someone being sexually harassed or assaulted. It has been recognized that there needs to be something done to prevent military sexual trauma from happening in the first instance.
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