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Category: Violence against Women

Servicewomen Sue Pentagon for Enabling Rape

| February 16, 2011

Yesterday, over a dozen current and former members of the US military filed a class action lawsuit against the Pentagon for turning a blind eye to rape and sexual assault. Attorneys, activists and servicewomen stood together at the news conference in Washington, lamenting the deficit of justice for victims of sexual abuse and lack of repercussions for perpetrators of these crimes within the military system.

"American youth should not sacrifice their bodily integrity when they volunteer to serve our country," said Executive Director of the Service Women’s Action Network Anuradha Bhagwati, who is also a former captain in the US Marine Corps. The majority of the assaults cited in the case took place in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also on US soil and as recently as two months ago.

During her four years of active duty, former sergeant Rebecca Havrilla was repeatedly sexually harassed and ultimately raped on her last day of deployment: another sergeant took photos of the assault and uploaded them to the Internet. She said there are three types of women in the army, “bitch, dyke and whore.” The lawsuit specifically names Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfield for enabling and protecting rapists from punishment.

This is far from the first allegation of sexual abuse in the military, but the case brings focus back to the military culture and system of injustice that allow abuses to go largely unpunished. Ms. Bhagwati summarized it well.:  "A lawsuit like this is needed because change cannot happen on the inside. DoD has had literally decades, perhaps more, to change the culture within the military. They've proven that they can't, and even the minor changes they've made the last few years are so superficial."

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