Nineteen soldiers, who were sexually assaulted during their military service, accused the military of not only turning a blind eye to rape but also retaliating against victims who report the crimes. The allegations came in a federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco Friday against Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his predecessors.
The suit has garnered the support of Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, because she has written legislation to take the initial review of military rape cases away from the commanding officer and put it before a new investigations office.
The lawsuit accuses Panetta, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld, of allowing a “culture of sexual harassment and blatant retaliation” in the military services.
The lawsuit harks back to what it calls a pattern and practice of Army, Navy and Air Force leadership ignoring rape and sexual assault charges. The suit points to a number of assault scandels:
n the 1991 Tailhook Convention scandal, in which 100 Navy and Marine Corps flight officers were accused of sexual assault of at least 83 women and 7 men during a Las Vegas convention.
n The Aberdeen Proving Ground Rape in 1996, in which the Army brought charges against 12 commissioned and non-commissioned male officers for sexual assault of female trainees.
n the Air Force Academy scandal in 2003 that included allegations of sexual assault and accused the Academy leadership of ignoring the complaints. Some 12 percent of the women who attended the academy reported they were the victims of rape or attempted rape and many were pressured for sexual favors.
n and ongoing allegations at Lackland Air Force Base, in which multiple instructors are accused of sexual assault of enlisted recruits.
One of the 19 plaintiffs, Daniele Hoffman, joined the Indiana Army National Guard, became a sergeant and is an Iraq war veteran. She alleges her recruiter became a father figure but the emotional support escalated to inappropriate touching and physical advances in 2003. Ultimately, she accused him of attempted rape but stopped when she screamed. Each time they met he warned her not to report the incident, the suit states.
When she finally reported the attack in 2004, word spread in the unit and six other women, no longer on active duty, came forward with similar stories.
The suit alleges the military “retaliated” against Hoffman by “blaming her for not ‘trying harder to stop his advances and for not reporting the harassment sooner.’” The recruiter was allowed to stay in the unit, but Hoffman was transferred.
The alleged harassment continued during her deployment to Iraq in 2008 where she was stationed in a guard town for up to 12 hours, despite a typical guard rotation lasting four hours, according to the suit.
She was also subjected to harassment by those she went to for help, the suit states.
Kole Welsh, a cadet in the Army from 2002 to 2007, learned he tested positive for HIV. The suit alleges his infection was traced back to his staff sergeant supervisor who sexually assaulted him. The sergeant was alleged to have intentionally infected a number of other soldiers but was allowed to transfer from base to base, instead of facing prosecution.
Welsh alleges the Veterans Administration denied medical benefits despite his positive HIV test and diagnosis of severe Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for the alleged unconstitutional and discriminatory practices, and asks for punitive damages.
Case: Hoffman v. Panetta, No. 12-cv-5049DMR