Sexual Assault in the Military June 13 2018, 0 Comments

While sexual assault in the military is not a new problem, it is, unfortunately, a persistent one. It is also a problem that seems to be growing, despite the prevalence in recent years of news articles and lawsuits highlighting the issue. The military is often unfairly aggressive in these prosecutions.

From September 30, 2016 to September 30, 2017, there were 6,769 incidents of sexual assault reported to the military by both men and women. This represents a 10% increase in the number of reported incidents in the previous year. It is also the highest number of reported assaults since 2006. Is the increase an actual jump in sexual offenses or hyper sensitivity?

Pentagon officials claim the rise can be attributed to the fact that victims of sexual assault are now more willing than ever to report abuses.  However, in attempting to explain why the number of perpetrators facing disciplinary action fell from 71% in 2013 to 62% in 2017, Pentagon officials stated that the lower prosecution rate may reflect an unwillingness of many victims to testify.  If victims feel emboldened enough to report abuse, why are they unwilling to testify?

Critics of the military’s handling of the issue believe that the male-dominated culture of the military is a contributing factor.  According to the 2016 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, nearly 60 percent of female service members who reported sexual assault faced retaliation (the number of men who reported retaliation was so low as to not be statistically reportable). The retaliatory measures that were experienced were both personal and professional in nature, ranging from threats and ostracism to damage to their careers.   To make matters worse, more than half of these female victims reported being retaliated against by their senior enlisted leader or another member of their chain of command. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a frequent critic of the military’s handling of sexual assaults, is also a staunch supporter of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). The MJIA would remove the authority of military commanders to punish sexual assaults and place it into the hands of military prosecutors.  In light of the fact that many victims have reported that their commanders were the ones who assaulted them in the first place, passage of the bill would greatly help to redress the problem of retaliation and lack of prosecution. 

Military policy regarding sexual assault states that any time there is knowledge of a crime, an individual should report it to the MP, CID, or the chain of command. Sadly, many victims are assaulted repeatedly because the abuse is not addressed.

Our client, Ms. Doe, is one such unfortunate victim.

Ms. Doe enrolled as an undergraduate in the Air Force Academy. After graduation, she immediately enrolled in a graduate nursing program. While at the Academy, she suffered horrific abuse and torture for which she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and seizure disorder, and she has been hospitalized multiple times for psychiatric care.  She has learned that she will never be able to bear children due to the horrific internal injuries she suffered, which left her bleeding so profusely that she required surgery.  Additionally, her dreams of having a career as a Second Lieutenant and as a nurse have been thwarted.

Ms. Doe was taken to the hospital with profuse vaginal bleeding.  She reported to the ER physician that she had been stabbed in the vagina with a knife several days earlier. She said that after the assault she had been evaluated by two different doctors at the U.S. Air Force Academy, neither of whom performed a pelvic exam.  In addition, the St. Francis hospital reports state that she had multiple cut marks to her chest, breasts and upper abdomen, which were in multiple stages of healing, and she had a concussion, which she stated she suffered due to having her head hit against a wall during the knife attack.

Jane Doe’s medical history clearly shows that she was suffering multiple mental issues, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Jane Doe saw another USAFA doctor, to whom she reported a sexual assault involving a knife and stated that her head had been hit against a wall, leaving her with headaches for several days.  Remarkably, no internal pelvic exam was done at that time, and the doctor’s records merely list the diagnosis as “Female Pelvic Pain”.

Ms. Doe also suffered several other head injuries and/or concussions that resulted in memory loss or amnesia while at the Academy.  

The AF was negligent in allowing Jane Doe to graduate from the Academy and to begin the nurse practitioner program, despite having been evaluated as mentally unwell.  There were many instances during which AF doctors diagnosed her with mental illnesses/symptoms that should have raised a red flag.  She had headaches, extensive chest scarring and burns, as well as the knife injuries to her genital region, which Ms. Doe reported was due to a sexual attack but the doctor diagnosed merely as “female pelvic pain”, and for which no internal exam was performed. Mental symptoms that USAFA doctors diagnosed her with include anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder and acute stress.

Jane Doe now faces the possibility that she will have to reimburse the Air Force for her tuition costs, despite the injuries, torture and abuse she suffered during her time at the Academy, and despite the fact that these injuries occurred due to the negligence of the Air Force Academy and doctors.  Although the authorities had ample information pertaining to her abuse and injuries, they failed to respond appropriately or to investigate severe mental health problems and ongoing physical evidence of abuse (bruises, scars, burns, etc.).  This failure to respond is especially shocking with regard to the horrific internal and external lacerations she suffered during apparent sexual abuse that caused her to bleed so severely that she was admitted to the hospital for surgery, but for which USAFA doctors did not even perform an internal exam.

Jane Doe is no longer physically or mentally fit to serve.   Her mental and physical issues, which are directly attributable to her time in the AF Academy, should entitle her to remedies, including her full pension and Tricare benefits.

Due to the terrible injustice she suffered as a result of the Air Force’s negligence, lack of care and inaction, Jane Doe is requesting that she receive an honorable discharge, that her student loans be forgiven, and that she receive benefits for the permanent harm.

Our nation’s military personnel have taken an oath to serve our nation, and they often put their lives on the line to protect our nation from terrorist attacks and military threats. At the very least, they should be able to expect protection from sexual assault. They deserve no less.