A total of seventeen military veterans and active-duty service members sued the Pentagon and charged Secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates with condoning sexual assault in the military in a complaint filed on February 15, 2011, in Virginia, United States.
The complaint details the survivors’ accounts of military sexual abuse, retaliation for reporting the crimes, and the overall attitude of indifference and mockery they experienced from senior officers when reporting rape. Rapists were transferred to other units to avoid prosecution and continued to receive career advancements despite being investigated for sexual assault. Rape survivors, on the other hand, were threatened with court martial for lying. One woman disclosed experiencing constant insults about her competence from her supervisor. When she reported him, his abusive behavior escalated to stalking and rape. Another woman was forced to live and work with her rapist and was then demoted for taking medication to deal with her trauma. A common thread throughout the complaint is each survivor’s account of enduring humiliation in front of their unit when reporting rape, being told to “respect” their rapist who was often senior in rank to them, being denied career advancement due to reporting rape, and being branded snitches, liars, or troublemakers for coming forward. Nearly all the survivors reported suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The complaint accuses Donald Rumsfeld of granting “moral waivers” to recruits convicted of sexual violence. Though a law exists making it a felony for sex offenders to possess firearms, Rumsfeld made exceptions for military personnel. According to Pentagon statistics, 3,230 rapes were reported in 2009, though the number is most likely far higher since 80 percent of victims do not report military rapes. The complaint cites that sex crimes rose 24 percent the year before Rumsfeld resigned and blames him and his successor, Robert Gates, for failing to take steps to eradicate the military’s culture of misogyny.
The survivors come from every military branch and include two men. They say they were victimized first by their assailants and then by the military system, which is driven by rape myths. According to the complaint, sexual violence in the military violates women’s constitutional rights and has the wider effect of threatening national security by reducing operational readiness, morale, and retention.