Today, sexual assault in the military is making headlines as another lawsuit, Shaw v. Panetta, is filed in San Francisco federal court on behalf of more than 20 U.S. Army and Air Force veterans who allege they were sexually assaulted during their military service.
Sexual assault in the military has been a frequent news story this year, in large part due to two similar class-action lawsuits against the military and the investigative documentary The Invisible War. AAUW supports all three lawsuits through our Legal Advocacy Fund.
The plaintiffs in the new suit come from a dozen states. They are suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the secretaries of the Army and the Navy, among others, for allegedly failing to protect the plaintiffs from rape and sexual assault while on active duty.
Following the filing, a press conference will be held in California at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. Daniele Hoffman, one of the plaintiffs, will share her story, and Susan Burke, the lead counsel for the survivors, will talk about the case. Representatives from the two organizations helping fund the cases, AAUW and Protect Our Defenders, also will speak.
Finally, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) will speak about her efforts in Congress to reform the military justice system. In November 2011, she introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act (H.R. 3435), which AAUW supports. The bill has 133 bipartisan co-sponsors.
As it did with each of the previous case filings, the U.S. Department of Defense sent representatives to speak to the media to talk about how the agency is addressing the issues. Too often, the military has given this issue lip service without making concrete changes, but it sounds like this time might be different.
In an appearance on NBC this week, Panetta said, “As difficult as [sexual assault survivors’] experience has been, we’re going to learn from that.”
He also said that the military has made significant changes this year to address the rampant problem of sexual assault, including allowing survivors to move away from alleged perpetrators, reporting assaults to people higher in the chain of command, and creating new special victims units.
This week, Panetta also ordered the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to “improve the quality of sexual assault prevention training for their prospective commanders and senior enlisted leaders.”
I’m proud that AAUW and our members are so active on this issue and have helped pressure the military into making these changes. You can take action by hosting a community screening of The Invisible War and by donating to AAUW to support the three lawsuits. Together, let’s continue to pressure the military into making important changes so that one day, the military will be free from sexual violence.