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Posts Tagged ‘U.S Marines’

Sexual assault in the military is a significant problem, one that affects 20 percent of women and 1 percent of men in the armed forces, according to the new documentary The Invisible War. This is an issue of great concern to AAUW, and last week we hosted a private screening of the Sundance Film Festival award-winning movie, which documents the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military.

During the screening, many of the 50 community leaders in attendance cried after hearing the stories of the brave survivors of sexual assault and rape. The audience voiced outrage over the retaliation the veterans faced and the lack of medical attention they received for injuries relating to the rapes. People were audibly disgusted when the film highlighted the military prevention program — especially the ineffective and inappropriate directives that tell women to go places with a buddy and tell men to “wait until she’s sober.” When the film ended, it was clear to everyone that a lot of change is needed to turn our military from a good one to one that is truly great and safe for all of its service members.

4.26.12 invisible war screening at aauw dc

From left: Klay v. Panetta plaintiff Elle Helmer, The Invisible War producer Amy Ziering, AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman, and Legal Advocacy Fund Program Manager Holly Kearl

Following the screening, there was a discussion with producer Amy Ziering and Elle Helmer, whose story was featured in the film. Helmer is a plaintiff in one of the two military sexual assault lawsuits that AAUW is supporting through our Legal Advocacy Fund case support program. Thanks to an AAUW Case Support Travel Grant Helmer was also able to speak about the lawsuit and her experiences at the AAUW of Florida state convention last weekend.

Helmer was an officer in the U.S. Marines who served at the prestigious Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2006. She says she was raped in 2006 in the company commander’s office. As Helmer recounts in The Invisible War, she reported the rape, but her report was never taken seriously, and she faced retaliation. When she wanted to go the hospital for medical help, she was told, “You’re not broken; you’re just dusty. You’ll get into a lot of trouble if you go to the hospital.” Then, after she went to the hospital and had a rape kit done, it was “misplaced.” Her alleged assailant was never charged.

Viewing the film and hearing Helmer’s story and the discussion afterward spurred attendees to want to take action. Fortunately, there are many ways for them — and for you — to get involved.

  1. Visit The Invisible War website, and “like” their Facebook page.
  2. Contact your congressional representatives about the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (the STOP Act), which addresses the structural changes needed in the military.
  3. Attend a showing of The Invisible War in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C. The film opens on June 22. If you live in those areas, please plan to attend, and bring as many people with you as you can, especially on opening night. The number of people who attend in the first week will determine if the film will open in other cities, too.
  4. Donate to AAUW to help offset the legal costs of Cioca v. Rumsfeld and Klay v. Panetta, the military sexual assault lawsuits that we’re supporting.

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Plaintiff Ariana Klay speaking at the March 6, 2012 National Press Conference

“You need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. … I can’t babysit you all of the time” was the response a Marine officer gave to Elle Helmer when she reported being raped by another Marine. Helmer was a public information officer at the U.S. Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., and she is one of eight current and former active-duty service members who filed a lawsuit against the military on Tuesday.

The plaintiffs are accusing U.S. military officials of creating a culture in which sexual assault and rape is tolerated and in which people who report it face retaliation. The lawsuit focuses specifically on the U.S. Marine Barracks.

At a National Press Club event on Tuesday, Helmer and Ariana Klay, another plaintiff who is a Naval Academy graduate and Iraq war veteran, courageously shared their stories before a room of journalists.

Klay said that she was gang raped by another Marine and his civilian (but former Marine) friend and then sexually harassed by several officers. Her story illustrates the victim-blaming that many survivors face if they speak out and the lack of initiatives focused on preventing or addressing sexual assault and harassment.

When Klay reported the harassment and rape, she said that she felt like she was the one on trial. She said that, during the investigation, she was told that she must have welcomed the attention by wearing makeup, dressing in regulation-length skirts (as part of her uniform), and exercising in running shorts and tank tops.

One of the rapists was court-martialed but, as often happens in the cases of reported rapes, was convicted of a lesser crime: adultery and indecent language. Nothing happened to the men who harassed her.

The stories of both women are included in the documentary The Invisible War, which won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award.

During the Press Club event, several speakers — including the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Susan Burke — talked about the lack of checks and balances within the military structure when it comes to these types of crimes. Survivors must report crimes internally, and they are handled internally instead of by civilian law enforcement or court systems. One outcome the plaintiffs want to see is a change in this structure so that survivors can seek help and justice outside of their military chain of command.

You can help. Contact your congressional representative and ask her or him to support the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act). This pending piece of legislation mandates the kinds of structural changes that the plaintiffs and AAUW want to see.

AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman spoke at the event, and I’m proud to say that AAUW is offering financial support to both this lawsuit and a similar one that was filed last year, Cioca v. Rumsfeld. We know that speaking out publicly, as Klay, Helmer, and the other plaintiffs are, is critical. And we know that backlash and retaliation can be fierce. We stand with them as they stand for justice.

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