Blog of Rights

Note to Military: Sexual Assault Includes Rape

By Sandra S. Park, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project at 5:59pm

While it is estimated that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010, a rate far higher than among civilians, the government has failed systematically to investigate complaints, appropriately punish perpetrators, and treat trauma and other health conditions suffered by survivors. The profound personal and social consequences that arise from the government’s systemic failures are powerfully profiled in the new film, The Invisible War. Turning a blind eye to these crimes has allowed them to continue, imperiling the lives of victims and degrading their service.

On Friday, a federal district court judge cited yet another example of the military’s unwillingness to acknowledge sexual violence within its ranks. In response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the ACLU seeking records from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs regarding their response to sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the military, the Army Crime Records Center claimed it couldn't provide records about "sexual assault" because its records are organized by specific criminal offenses such as “rape,” not under the general heading of "sexual assault."

"'Sexual assault' is easily read as encompassing rape and other non-consensual sexual crimes defined in the Army's offense codes," the judge found. "The fact that the agency was unwilling to read the Plaintiffs' request liberally to include such terms seems to be almost willful blindness."

The judge further ruled that several other sections of the Departments failed to adequately respond to our requests and ordered the government to fulfill its obligations under FOIA. We will continue to press the government for the information we need to truly understand, address, and end the epidemic of sexual violence in the military.

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