Tag Archives: Military

Stop Sexual Assault in the Military

By Hillary Scrivani, WLP Law Intern

When a woman signs up to serve her country in the U.S. military, she should expect to be honored and thanked for her service.  What she should not expect is to become part of the enormous group of women who are sexually assaulted in the military each year.  According to a survey released by the Pentagon, there has been a significant increase in the number of servicewomen who were sexually assaulted in 2012 from 2010.  The survey estimates that 6.1% of servicewomen were sexually assaulted in 2012, up from 4.4% in 2010.

This systematic atrocity that is taking place in the U.S. military has captured the attention of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing regarding these issues on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.  At the hearing, senators–including female senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Kay Hagan (D-NC)—questioned U.S. military chiefs about the military’s inadequate handling of sexual assault cases.

In response to this problem, Senator Gillibrand introduced a measure that would require the more serious assault prosecutions in the military to be taken out of the chain of military command.  However, many military leaders do not think that the decision to prosecute and the handling of these cases should be taken out of the military chain of command.  Many senators agree with this line of thinking, as the bill was recently rejected by the Senate Armed Services Committee. It is expected that Senator Gillibrand will attempt to revive her measure in the fall.

A bill written by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, which would require a review if the commanders entrusted with prosecuting sexual assault cases elect not to prosecute them, and would make retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault a crime.

Additionally, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday, June 14, 2013, that would “strip commanders of their authority to dismiss a finding by a court martial, establish minimum sentences for sexual assault convictions, permit victims of sexual assault to apply for a permanent change of station or unit transfer, and ensure that convicted offenders leave the military.”

The problem of sexual assault in the military, and the military’s poor handling of sexual assault cases, is not getting better: indeed, measured by survey released by the Pentagon, it is getting significantly worse. A bold new policy is needed to eradicate the culture that tolerates the sexual abuse of servicemen and servicewomen. There is no excuse for maintaining the status quo when the number of assaults of men and women who risk their lives to defend our country keeps increasing each year.

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Filed under Military, military women, Rape, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women

Senate Defense Bill Would Allow Women in Combat

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Wingfield, Former WLP Intern

A proposed measure in the Senate’s National Defense Reauthorization Act would demand that the military come up with a plan to allow women in fight on the frontlines. While the House version of the bill does not include the same measure, a separate bill with the same provision is pending in the lower chamber. The measure allowing women in combat could be added to the House bill when it is meshed with the Senate bill. While the Pentagon recently announced that women are now formally permitted to serve in jobs that would put them in the frontlines, such as serving as a tank mechanic or fire detection specialist, the measure is still needed because women may still not officially serve in combat.

As we have written before, “there is no reason to restrict the role of women in the military” since when women have been asked to perform more dangerous jobs in the military they have exceled in their roles. Not only is there no reason to bar servicewomen from serving in combat positions, but the restriction makes it more difficult for women to be promoted to higher ranks in the military since, as the Huffington Post reports, “battle experience is a key to promotion.” As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who proposed the measure said,

Women are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines, but without the formal recognition that is essential for them to advance and obtain the benefits they have earned. Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender.

We hope that the National Defense Authorization Act will include the provision allowing women to serve in combat since women should be given the same opportunities to advance in the military as their male counterparts. We will keep you updated about this issue.

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Filed under Congress, Military

Increasing Number of Homeless Women Veterans

The number of women veterans who become homeless after returning to civilian life is on the rise. This increasing rate of homelessness among women veterans is due to many factors that affect all genders who have served in the military such as brain injuries, drug and alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress.  However, the increase in the homeless women veteran population is also likely due to stresses that disproportionately affect women such as sexual assault, domestic violence, single parenthood, and pregnancy.

As we have reported previously, there is a shockingly high number of servicewomen who are sexually assaulted while in active service and the military has often failed to deal with the crime appropriately. Trying to cope after surviving rape in the military is one factor that is likely to blame for the rise in the women veteran homeless population.  Indeed, the Huffington Post reported “that 20 percent of female Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced Military Sexual Abuse, a trauma that is more likely to impede a veteran’s transition back to society than a combat-related trauma.”

While some women veterans must try to cope with trauma experienced while in military service, other servicewomen, such as Ruth Donaldson, must try to transition back to civilian life while experiencing violence at home.

Donaldson said she was diagnosed with PTSD [after having served as an ammunition specialist], even though she did not serve in combat. She moved out [of her home] after her then-husband, a soldier, physically abused her, she said.

She managed to get an apartment, but after she lost her gas station job, she couldn’t afford her rent.

A friend told her about Jubilee House [a homeless shelter for female veterans], where Donaldson now has a room for her and her son, Dante.

Like Donaldson, many women veterans find themselves struggling to support not only themselves but children after returning from military service.  Increasing awareness of this issue has produced more homeless shelters that specialize in the type of services women veterans often need, such as beds for their children and care for those who have survived military sexual trauma.  However, shelters that provide these services, while growing in number, are still rare.  Stephanie Felder, the Fayetteville, NC Veteran Affairs homeless program coordinator told the Los Angeles Times that “the community is more aware [of the need for increased services for homeless female veterans]…But there just isn’t [sic] enough beds [in homeless shelters for veterans], especially for women and children.”

The Huffington Post reported that “homelessness among female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has increased every year for the last six years — from 150 in 2006 to 1,700 this year.” To find out more about the needs of homeless veterans, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, Homeless, Military, Rape, Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment, Violence Against Women, Welfare, Women Veterans

What We’re Reading: Women’s Health

There has been an overwhelming amount of news out there concerning women’s health recently, so much that it is impossible to write an individual blog post on all the stories WLP staff come across. Below you will find a list of some of the stories we have been reading recently, representing both headlines we found disheartening and those that made us hopeful.

  • The New Hampshire Senate passed a parental notification law “requiring [that] at least one parent of a minor seeking an abortion receives written notification at least 48 hours prior to the procedure.” The bill would require notification even in circumstances in which “‘notice to the parent or guardian may lead to physical or emotional abuse of the minor.’” It is now up to Governor Lynch whether or not the bill becomes law.
  • A bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), if passed, would treat and prevent obstetric fistulas around the world. Obstetric fistulas are a devastating injury which occurs during childbirth, primarily to women and girls in developing nations.
  • According to a report by the United Kingdom Department of Health, thousands of Irish women travel from their home country where abortion is not legal to Great Britain in order to obtain the procedure legally.
  • Vermont Governor Shumlin signed into law a bill “requiring that any health insurance and health benefit plans that provide maternity benefits (including Medicaid and public health care assistance plans) must provide coverage for midwifery services in hospitals, other health care facilities, and at home.” The bill also allows transgendered individuals to change the gender on their birth certificate from the one they were assigned at birth.
  • A bill banning telemedicine to administer abortion services has passed the Nebraska Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Heineman. This would ban Planned Parenthood from using telemedicine in Nebraska the way it has in Iowa. We have posted before about how Planned Parenthood’s utilization of technology to provide healthcare has given necessary services to women in underserved rural areas.
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) “introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have allowed military health care plans to cover abortion services for service women who had been raped.” Currently, servicewomen’s health plans do not cover abortion even in the case of rape. “The House Rules Committee, however, did not permit the amendment to be brought to the House floor for debate.”
  • The New Jersey Senate passed a bill that would restore funding to family planning clinics after Governor Christie cut all family planning from the state’s budget last year. Christie said he would “consider the bill as part of a larger budget deal.”
  • The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit “against a new South Dakota law requiring that women undergo a 72 hour waiting period and mandatory counseling from a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) before obtaining an abortion.”
  • The US Senate voted against a budget plan which would have turned Medicare “into a voucher program to buy private insurance as if any company would sell such a policy to an elderly person who is ill.”
  • The Obama administration prohibited Indiana’s law which forbids “state agencies from entering contracts with or making grants to ‘any entity that performs abortions or maintains or operates a facility where abortions are performed.’”
  • House leaders shelved  H.R. 1745 which would have taken away emergency unemployment insurance from jobless women and men.
  • The book Home/Birth: A Poemic extols  the benefits of home birth and stresses the importance of “overturn[ing] restrictions which have limited the scope of midwifery and ‘normalized’ medical intervention.”

Let us know about other women’s health news or your thoughts on any or all of these stories in comments.

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Filed under Abortion, Childbirth, Contraception, Military, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, What We're Reading, Women's health

Female Soldiers Sue U.S. Military for Inadequate Response to Sexual Assaults

Jezebel recently reported on a lawsuit filed by former soldiers against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld.  The soldiers state that they created a military culture which protected and enabled their rapists, providing no protection for them.

A culture that, these women and men say, not only allowed their assaults but bullied them when they tried to report and, in many cases, left their assailants free and even thriving.

Not only were the women’s complaints to the military ignored, according to the article, but their rapists led thriving careers in the military. One alleged assailant was given an award for “Airman of the Quarter.”

This incident also brings to the light the unmet needs of women in the military. It is sad that a horrifying case like this one is what is needed to bring to light the unequal treatment, and untrue views of our women in uniform.

As demoralizing as it can be to contemplate such concentrated violence and misogyny, we’re hearing these stories because these survivors refused to go away quietly, and are bravely fighting back.

We thank these soldiers for coming forward and bringing to light the trials and discrimination women experience in the military.

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Filed under Military, Rape, Women's health

Federal Judge Orders Military to Stop Enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

In 2004, the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian non-profit organization, brought an action against the United States and Secretary of Defense consisting of a facial challenge to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute (10 U.S.C. § 654) and its implementing regulations. The federal District Court for the Central District Court of California heard arguments on the case this past July.

Judge Virginia A. Phillips held that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional on September 9th.  Judge Phillips has now ordered that the United States military cease enforcement of this policy.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton. This law allows for service members to serve in the military, regardless of their sexual orientation, providing that they do not tell others that they are homosexual and do not engage in homosexual acts.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated the service members’ right to due process under the Fifth Amendment and restricted free speech rights under the First Amendment. Judge Phillips agreed, finding that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” infringed upon the fundamental rights of service members.

Under the heightened scrutiny test applied by Judge Phillips, the defendants failed to meet their burden of showing that the policy was necessary to significantly further important government interests of military readiness and unit cohesion.  Additionally, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” challenged as an overbroad content-based speech restriction, did not survive First Amendment scrutiny because the government could not show that the regulation survived even the deferential review applied to speech in a military context. Judge Phillips wrote that the restriction under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on speech is “more than is reasonably necessary to protect the substantial government interest.”

The facial challenge of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law allowed Judge Phillips to invalidate the statute and provide broad injunctive relief. Although the defendants argued to keep some parts of the law in place, Judge Phillips found that the “unconstitutional nature of the Act permeates the entire statute. Thus, total invalidation is the narrowest remedy available for the relief sought here.” Judge Phillips permanently enjoined the United States and the Secretary of Defense from enforcing or applying the policy.

In addition, she ordered that any “investigation, discharge, separation, or other proceeding” executed under the policy be suspended and discontinued, immediately. Phillips has also granted the Log Cabin Republicans the right to apply for attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412 and to file a motion for the costs of the suit.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will appeal the October 12th injunction or the district court’s ruling on the constitutionality of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” However, President Obama has said in the past that he opposes the policy.

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Filed under Equality, Government, LGBT, Military, Sexual orientation

Sexual Assault in the Military: Servicewomen Taking a Stand

woman in military uniformThe Washington D.C. law firm Burke PLLC is preparing to file a class action suit against the U.S. military for failure to properly address sexual assault and rape. Not only is a woman in the military more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, female soldiers who report crimes committed against them are often harassed and intimidated. A Pentagon report revealed that between 2004 and 2007 “more than half of the investigations [of rape and sexual assault]…resulted in no action. When action was taken, only one third of the cases resulted in courts-martial.”

The horrendous way that the military treats sexual assault and rape survivors may be illustrated through Lt. Jennifer Dyer’s story:

In 2004, after Lt. Jennifer Dyer reported being raped by a fellow officer at Camp Shelby, Miss., she said she was held in seclusion for three days, read her Miranda rights and threatened with criminal prosecution for filing a false report. After finally being given two weeks leave, she was threatened with prosecution for being AWOL when she would not report for duty to the same location where the man she had accused — who was later acquitted on assault charges — was still posted.

Unfortunately, Dyer’s story is not an anomaly. Many women in the military are wrongly treated after having endured sexual trauma.

Over 90% of all females that report a sexual assault are discharged from the military before their contract ends. From the 90%, around 85% are discharged against their wishes. Nearly all of the 85% lose their careers based on misdiagnoses that render them ineligible for military service and ineligible for VA treatment after discharge.

When a soldier is convicted of rape, the punishment is often not fitting of someone who committed a violent crime. The military still allows convicted rapists to be buried with full honors, therein perpetuating “the culture of impunity that allows soldiers to commit sexual violence with little worry of being brought to justice.”

Soldiers who have raped other soldiers are sometimes even allowed to stay in the military. Lance Cpl. Sally Griffiths reported having been raped by a fellow Marine. A statement from the Marine confirmed her story. But even with this statement, the Marine was never prosecuted and stayed in the military, enjoying several promotions.

We have written before about the challenges and dangers that women in uniform face, including sexual assault, domestic violence, inadequate resources to address PTSD, lack of access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare, dismissal because of their sexual orientation and more. This lawsuit is one small step to correcting the many wrongs that have been committed against servicewomen.

As the firm is preparing to file a class-action suit on behalf of sexual assault survivors, they are looking for any “any victims/survivors who may be potentially interested in participating in this lawsuit.” To contact the firm, e-mail Susan Sajadi at ssajadi@burkepllc.com.

Photo from the Library of Congress’s Flickr stream

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Filed under Military, Rape