A press conference was held at the National Press Conference today to announce a new lawsuit being filed in the US District Court in Washington, DC on behalf of eight current and former members of the Navy and Marine Corps. The lawsuit, filed by Susan L. Burke on behalf of the plaintiffs, charges that the “laws designed to reduce rape, sexual assault and harassment in the Navy and Marine Corps directly and seriously harmed Plaintiffs and others who have reported rape and sexual assault and have challenged sexual harassment. Rather than being respected and appreciated for reporting crimes and unprofessional conduct, Plaintiffs and others who report are branded ‘troublemakers,’ endure egregious and blatant retaliation, and are often forced out of military service.”

The lead plaintiffs, Adriana Klay and Elle Helmer, stationed at the central command headquarters of the Marines in Washington, DC, are both former Marine officers and spoke out courageously at the press conference. Klay was a merit scholar and is an honors graduate of the US Naval Academy. She was sexually harassed and gang raped by a senior Marine Corps officer and his civilian friend in order to “humiliate her.” Elle Helmer, the Public Affiars Officer and Official Spokesperson for the Marines, was ordered to participate in a “pub crawl” by her immediate superior officer and then raped by him.

Speakers at the press conference included Susan Burke, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Linda Hallman, Executive Director of American Association of University Women (AAUW), Nancy Parrish, President of Protect our Defenders, and Colonel Ann Wright, who is retired from the military.

Smeal asserted, “The women’s movement is determined to end this wonton violence against women in the armed services. The definition of rape in the military must change to comply with the new FBI definition, which has recognized that force need not be present, but rather in modern rape alcohol and drugs are used to subdue the victim. The cover-up for a few predator abusers in the military is injuring women, men, and the armed services themselves.”

The Pentagon’s “Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” indicated that approximately 3,000 women experienced sexual assault in fiscal year 2008, which is a 9 percent increase from the previous year. Experts say that the real rate of sexual assault in the military is five times report incidence. Because of the high level of retaliation, victims are afraid to report. For women in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rate of sexual assaults by US military personnel increased by 25 percent.

According to a 2003 study by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, at least one-third of all women veterans have experienced rape or sexual assault during their service primarily from US service personnel, and thirty percent of military women experience domestic violence. Moreover, rape occurs in the military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world.

Feminist Majority Foundation 3/6/12

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