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    « Japan To Slash Corporate Tax Rate: Desperate Measures For Desperate Times | Main | Stockholm Suicide Bombing, Cartoon Of Muhammad, & The Swedish Society »

    New Lawsuit Against DOD & VA Re: Sexual Abuse In US Military

    Today the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with NY based NGO - Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) - filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in New Haven, Connecticut against the US Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for failure to release government documents related to rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the US military. The lawsuit alleges that the DOD and the DVA failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FIA) request by the organizations, seeking release of documents related to sexual trauma.

    Military sexual trauma (MST) - which includes rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment - of military service women is unfortunately widely prevalent. Despite the fact that the sexual trauma is under reported, it's prevalence in military service women is twice as much as in civilian population. SWAN identifies itself as a 'human rights organization', which works with military service women and women veterans. It provides advocacy, resources, legal and counseling referrals to women in US military. 

    Following information is from the SWAN, which highlights the enormity and the complexity of the MST: 

    • In year 2009 alone 3,230 military sexual assaults were reported, which is an increase of 11% from year 2008. 
    • In a study of a sample of veterans who were seeking VA disability benefits for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), 71% of women and 4% of men reported an in-service sexual assault. 
    • 79% of women serving in the military since Vietnam have reported experiences of sexual harassment. 
    • Sexual assaults that occur in the military are often not isolated incidents and may involve more than one perpetrator - 37% of women veterans report being raped at least twice, and 14% report being gang raped.
    • Perpetrators of MST often wield control over the victim, especially since perpetrators are likely to outrank the victims. If the perpetrators are in the victims’ chain of command, reporting the incident can seem impossible. 
    • Unlike in civilian life, victims of MST do not have the option to just quit their job or even sue their employers.
    • Among a sample of servicewomen raped in the military, an alarming 75% did not report the incident. Reporting assaults anonymously is almost impossible for victims of MST. Although the Department of Defense recently introduced a “restricted” reporting option that allows MST victims to access medical treatment for assault but not pursue legal action against the perpetrator, information such as rank, service branch, gender, age, race, and information about the assault is required in order to submit a report. Anonymity, then, is unlikely to be preserved. 
    • Also, evidence documenting the assault, including rape kits, is kept by the military for only one year, further compounding access to justice. These obstacles lead to extremely low prosecutorial rates - although 40% of sex offenders are prosecuted in the civilian world, only 8% of perpetrators are prosecuted in the military. 
    • MST is the primary causal factor of PTSD for women. Female survivors of MST experience higher levels of depression than their male counterparts and are also more likely to develop eating disorders.  
    • MST and its attendant consequences are often risk factors for homelessness among women veterans. 40% of homeless women veterans have reported experiences of sexual assault in the military. 
    • The stress, depression, and other mental health issues that accompany MST make it more likely that survivors will experience high rates of substance abuse and will have difficulty finding work after discharge from the military.
    • Veterans who suffer from health conditions resulting from MST face enormous obstacles when applying for disability compensation from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  

    Regarding the lawsuit against the DOD and the VA, the ACLU reports: "The lawsuit filed today states that the goal of the lawsuit is to "obtain the release of records on a matter of public concern, namely, the prevalence of MST within the armed services, the policies of the DOD and VA regarding MST and other related disabilities, and the nature of each agency's response to MST.""

    Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project said that, "The known statistics on military sexual trauma suggest that sexual abuse is all too prevalent in our military. But we know that many service members who suffer from abuse are not receiving the treatment they need. The truth about the extent of this abuse and what has been done to address it must be made known." Anuradha Bhagwati, a former US Marine captain and Executive Director of SWAN said, "The DOD and VA should put the interests of service members first and expose information on the extent of sexual trauma in the military to the sanitizing light of day".

    ~ Gauri 

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