Pentagon Says Uncovering the Truth about Military Sexual Violence Is Too Burdensome. Huh?

It's often said that people should be judged by their actions, not merely their words. The same is true of institutions, even the Department of Defense (DoD).

Facing intense criticism for how it responds to sexual violence within the military, the Pentagon has said: "Sexual Assault is a crime that is not tolerated, condoned, or ignored in the DoD. It is one of the most serious challenges facing our military."

Yet, in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation that has now been pending for three years, the Pentagon argues that releasing its records regarding military sexual violence is too "burdensome," because it involves a large number of documents. But that raises more questions than it answers: Doesn't the volume of documents only confirm the magnitude of sexual assault in the military? Why is the DoD opposing efforts to shed further light on military sexual violence, a necessary step to creating effective solutions?

In 2010 and 2011, the Service Women's Action Network, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Connecticut filed FOIA requests with the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), seeking documents relating to sexual violence, harassment, and domestic violence in the military. We wanted to fully understand how DoD commanders and the military justice system deal with complaints and how the VA treats disability claims submitted by veteran survivors. Ultimately, our goal was to share what we learned with the public and to craft meaningful reforms based on those insights.

Initially, we got little response to our requests.

After filing two lawsuits against the DoD and VA, we reached a settlement with the VA, resulting in the production of a number of documents. Battle for Benefits, the report issued by the ACLU and SWAN in November with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, drew on those records to illuminate the VA's discriminatory treatment of disability claims based on military sexual trauma. The report concluded that disability claims based on PTSD related to military sexual trauma were granted at a significantly lower rate than other disability claims. It also found VA regional offices treated these claims inconsistently. It included several policy recommendations for the VA that have been picked up by Congress.

But the litigation with the Pentagon remains ongoing, because it states that too many records would need to be turned over. We responded by narrowing our requests once we were able to determine which documents contain useful information on how the DoD deals with these cases, but it still will not comply with our requests.

More fundamentally, the Pentagon fails to recognize that the volume of records it possesses relating to sexual violence is simply a sign of the appalling rates of violence within the military. Its position is particularly disturbing because it would justify refusing to comply with FOIA whenever the request would expose deep-seated and widespread abuses within our government – the very point of the law.

Tomorrow the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will hear oral arguments in New York on whether the Pentagon can avoid releasing these records. Rather than seeing disclosure as a burden, the Pentagon should work with advocates to expose, and address, "one of the most serious challenges facing our military."

Simple justice and good government demand it.

Learn more about sexual assault in the military and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

View comments (6)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

Why won't anyone talk about all of the civilians raped by this same US military!
Can people not comprehend that if they are raping their own they are raping civilians who aren't get info any help from police or the military!
http://theusmarinesrape.com/FaceBook.html

CA Sexual Assau...

This argument is reminiscent of the same arguments made by the Catholic Church and other bureaucratic institutions.  As an attorney for sexual assault victims, I encounter resistance to discovery constantly and "cover up" seems to be second nature for many institutions accused of systemic assault and abuse claims.  Keep pressing the fight!  We need to bring this grave problem to the light of day.

Anonymous

The harsh reality here are the "facts." The U.S. military prosecutes far more sexual assault cases per capita than any other jurisdiction - cases that would be "no billed" by Grand Juries or dismissed by prosecutors after investigation. Byzantine policies such as a person cannot "consent" if they'd had one drink of alcohol, result in prosecutions that are flawed from the beginning. I'm not suggesting that there is not a societal issue here, but the demographics of the 18-24 year old population (which compose probably the vast majority of these cases) demonstrate that the military takes a far more aggressive approach than most District Attorneys offices do vis-à-vis college sexual assaults.

The irony here is that if the ACLU wins its FOIA suit (and as a member, I hope they prevail), they will be getting more "discovery" than most criminal defense attorneys (of which I am one) receive in defending a servicemember accused of sexual assault. And once that data is in the public domain via FOIA production, it's discoverable in military criminal cases as well.

Anonymous

I wish *I* could afford a Sexual Assault attorney, but I've always been in the category that some people call "white trash."
I lived in New York City. I can't stand mincing words in certain situations and prefer to tell it like I see it no matter how harsh it sounds to everyone else.
I can't afford ANY attorney; I would have been afforded counsel at the expense of the state if I'd become a criminal instead of trying to be law-abiding my whole life for what little good it's done me.
The people who did it to me need have no concerns though. The thing that's coming to collect them when they finish this journey is so terrifying that its presence at the moment of their death will more than account for what they did in their life for which they were never sorry. No amount of begging for mercy from this thing will get the beggar what s/he wants.
It may sound like crazy talk or wishful thinking but I'm serious. I had a near-death experience and saw things that at first I refused to believe existed. But when 20 years later I saw an episode of Paranormal Witness describing the thing I saw at the moment of my death (with no way of having told them about it or them telling me, no way of being a convenient coincidence) I could no longer deny what I thought I saw. At the very least, I've been forced to look at the possibility that it COULD be real.

Kat_Box

The message, between the lines, in this article seems to be that the government is doing everything within its will power to hide these sexual assault cases. The "victims" of these crimes need to be tended to in order for the assaults to cease. The ethical response in most citizens eyes would be that the government needs to be proactive about these cases, but it is apparent that this is not taking place. The logical reasoning behind keeping these cases quiet is obvious. The military is one of the most highly respected organizations in the United States, and the U.S. would do anything to protect the troops. “In utilitarianism, the individual is obligated to do those actions that maximize the happiness of everyone.” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, pg 87) In this case, the government is obligated to complete the actions necessary to maximize the happiness of the country. If all the sexual assault cases within the Military were reported and prosecuted, the respect level for the Military would drastically decrease and greater problems would arise.

Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication (sixth ed., pp. 44-54). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Kat_Box

In this article, between the lines, it is apparent that the government is trying to keep these sexual assaults quiet. With there being several cases filed, an ethical citizen would think that at least one would be prosecuted by now. For the common citizen, they might say that the government should do everything in it's power to address the issues and find justice for the victim, but this is obviously not what is taking place. “In utilitarianism, the individual is obligated to do those actions that maximize the happiness of everyone.” (Johannesen, Valde, & Whedbee, pg 87) In this case, the government is obligated to do anything to maximize the happiness of citizens. The Military is one of the most respected organizations in the United States, and if the U.S. were to prosecute the Military then the nations would see greater problems arise.

Johannesen, R. L., Valde, K. S., & Whedbee, K. E. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication (sixth ed., pp. 44-54). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

Stay Informed