8 Women Bring Lawsuit Against Military, Allege Rape/Harassment

Eight current and former female members of the U.S. military filed a federal lawsuit alleging rape, assault and harassment during their time of service. They also say they suffered retaliation when they reported the incidents to superiors.

Seven of the women allege that fellow officers raped or tried to sexually assault them. The eighth says she was harassed and threatened while deployed overseas, only to be told by a superior that “this happens all the time.”

The women say they’ve suffered depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder because of the sexual assaults. One says she attempted suicide after being raped inside her row home by a senior officer and his civilian friend.

The lawsuit names as defendants past and present military leaders, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said that the military has no tolerance for sexual assault. Service members who report a sexual assault have the option of quickly transferring their unit or installation under a new policy announced in December.

Smith also said that the department has increased funding for investigators and judge advocates to receive specialized training in sexual assault cases, is assembling a data base of sexual assault complainants and is reviewing how commanding officers are trained in preventing and responding to rape cases.

“It is important that everyone in uniform be alert to the problem and have the leadership training to help prevent these crimes,” Smith said in a written statement.

A Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Alana Garas, said the Navy has developed an education and training program on sexual assault reporting.

Ariana Klay, a former Marine Corps officer and one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs says she was raped in August 2010. She said the military avoids scrutiny for its handling of these accusations by projecting a warrior culture and because the public doesn’t want to believe these crimes and cover-ups are occurring among service members.

“A noble cause is a great vehicle for corruption because nobody wants to look and nobody is going to look,” Klay said.

After serving in Iraq, Klay was recruited to Military Barracks Washington in the nation’s capital, where she says she was falsely accused of adultery, labeled a “slut” and “whore” and told to “deal with it” by a superior. She said that she requested a deployment to Afghanistan, but was denied because she was was too critical to the command. Klay alleges she was raped inside her row house on the morning of Aug. 28, 2010, by a senior officer and a civilian friend.

She says she reported the rapes and left the barracks, but was told she invited the harassment because of how she dressed. She says one of her alleged attackers was eventually court-martialed, but was found guilty of lesser offenses of indecent language and adultery. She became so despondent amid the retaliation that she attempted suicide.

Another plaintiff, Elle Helmer, says she was told she got a public affairs position at the Marine Barracks because she was considered the “prettiest,”. Helmer reported being sexually assaulted by a commanding officer following a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl in Washington’s Capitol Hill in 2006. She says she was discouraged from submitting to a rape kit and medical examination, was told she needed to toughen up and was investigated for public intoxication and conduct unbecoming.

She left the Marine Corps soon after.

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