New report highlights unjust treatment of military sexual assault victims

UPDATE – 5/23, 9:48 a.m. EST: A new report to be released Monday by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) examining over 300 sexual assault cases at U.S. military bases in 2014, says that findings “suggest a continued large-scale systemic failure and an ingrained culture that protects the accused and ostracizes the survivor at the expense of the public and our service members’ safety.”

The Senate is current considering its 2017 defense spending bill, in which Sen. Gillibrand has proposed an amendment to eliminate “the bias and inherent conflicts of interest” in the military’s decision making process in regards to handling accusations of sexual assault among service members.

Gillibrand’s proposal would take the decision-making authority away from high-ranking military personnel and let military lawyers handle serious cases of  personal misconduct.

Among the most significant of the report’s findings is a lack of disciplinary action against accusatory retaliation — no punishment was leveled against any of the alleged sexual assault perpetrators for retaliation by the perpetrator or the victim’s military superiors in the 329 cases cited in the report.


A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on Thursday highlights the modern history of sexual assault in the U.S. military where “thousands” of personnel have been dishonorably discharged even for reporting incidents of rape by fellow service members.

HRW’s report, entitled “Booted: Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors” is a combination of first-hand accounts and a description of statistics that point to a culture of negligence when it came to the harassment of female military personnel and sexual crimes against both men and women.

“[A]ll too often superior officers choose to expeditiously discharge sexual assault victims rather than support their recovery and help them keep their position,” the report stated. “Very few sexual assault survivors we spoke to managed to stay in service.”

“Prior to 2011, male service member in particular risked being thrown out of (the military) for homosexual conduct for reporting rape by a male, even though the conduct was non-consensual.”

In total, HRW conducted 270 interviews with 163 sexual assault victims from every branch of the military, between October 2013 and February 2016.

While the Pentagon’s sexual misconduct policy and subsequent mistreatment of victims has been disappointing, major reforms have been enacted since 2008 which has “improved” the response protocol to sexual assault victims.

However, prior to the institution of more appropriate sexual misconduct policies, many victims received “bad papers” for a discharge that wasn’t deemed “honorable” — forced out of service for a “personality disorder”, or “adjustment disorder”.

A discharge from the military that is labeled anything less than honorable renders the former member ineligible for military benefits.

HRW found that between FY 2001 and FY 2010, a “disproportionate” number of the 31,000 service members discharged for “personality disorder” were female.

Even more disheartening, 90 percent of discharge cases appealed to the Board for Correction of Military Records and the Discharge Review Boards are never heard.

“Military rape victims with bad discharges are essentially labeled for life,” report author Sara Darehshori said in a statement. “Not only have they lost their military careers, they have been marked with a status that may keep them from getting a job or health care”.

The Department of Defense issued a response via email to CNN Thursday, which stated, in part: “There is no indication (Human Rights Watch) actually received service records, discharge records, or service standards, to objectively assess whether the discharge was right or wrong.”

A Pentagon public relations campaign in the early 2010s encouraged military sexual assault victims to report incidents, leading to a 50 percent increase in official notifications of such conduct in 2014.

In addition, Congress has passed reforms in recent years that give service members who are victimized by sexual assault the option of bringing charges in either a civil or military court and disallow the “good soldier” argument for defendants.

HRW also recommends further reforms to include giving assault victims who have been discharged the guarantee of having their military records reviewed and the designation of “personality disorder” on their discharge papers changed to “completion of service”.


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