Eight female service members filed a lawsuit Tuesday against current and former leadership of the Navy and Marine Corps., alleging rape, sexual assaults and retaliation if they reported the abuse while serving in the military.
"Although defendants testified before Congress and elsewhere that they have 'zero tolerance' for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and 'zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment," according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington.
The suit claims nine current and former Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of the Navy and Commandants of the Marine Corps "condoned a culture which allowed sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape."
The lawsuit also contends that the defendants failed to protect the women from those crimes; failed to properly investigate and prosecute offenders; and retaliated against service members who reported being raped, harassed or sexually assaulted.
Additionally, the suit describes the alleged experiences of the eight female service members -- two former Marine Corps officers, one active duty enlisted Marine, one former enlisted member of the Marine Corps and four former enlisted members of the Navy.
The lawsuit alleges Elle Helmer was raped by her superior at his office in March 2006 after a mandatory pub crawl.
"This is the first time I've had a voice in six years, so pardon if it's a little wobbly," said Helmer, a former spokeswoman for Marine Barracks Washington, who appeared at a news conference Tuesday at the National Press Club.
Also listed in the suit is Ariana Klay, another former Marine Corps officer and plaintiff, who was "gang-raped" by a senior officer and his civilian friend at her Washington home in August 2010, according to the suit. The officer allegedly threatened to kill Klay for reporting the abuse.
This is the second suit filed that relates to sexual harassment in the military.
"Given the serious health consequences of rape and sexual violence, consistent rates of rape across eras of service and findings of repeated rapes indicate that violence towards military women remains a serious public health concern," Anne Sadler found in a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
More than 19,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact are estimated to have occurred in 2010, though less than 3,000 of those events were reported, according to the most recent Defense Department study.
The Defense Department has made efforts to address sexual harassment in the military through its Sexual Assault and Prevention sector but refrained to comment on the pending suit.
by RTT Staff Writer
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