Just days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military would actually start punishing sexual assault rather than covering it up by gaslighting alleged victims with psychiatric diagnoses, two women who claim that they were raped while attending U.S. service academies sued military officials Friday for failing to address widespread reports of sexual assault at the elite schools.
Leah Marquet, 20, and Anne Kendzior, 22, filed suit in Manhattan federal court, claiming that the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and the Military Academy in West Point, New York tolerate sexual assault by discouraging alleged victims from reporting incidents. "Both institutions," the lawsuit read,
systematically and repeatedly ignore rampant sexual harassment. Both institutions have a history of failing to prosecute and punish those students found to have sexually assaulted and raped their fellow students.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of Leon Panetta's announcement that the military is seriously going to start dealing with sexual assaults. For real this time. Though all branches of the military already have a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to sexual assault, the Defense Department estimates that, even with as many as 3,192 cases of sexual assault last year, 86 percent of incidents went entirely unreported. Marquet and Kendzior's lawsuit, moreover, is only the latest federal case in which the military's handling of sexual assault reports will be called into question. Last month, eight women filed suit in federal court in Washington, alleging that they were raped, harassed or assaulted while serving in the military, and were retaliated against after reporting the abuse.
Marquet and Kendzior's suit accuses former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and four other high-ranking officials of failing to implement measures to effectively deal with sexual assault at the service academies. Marquet, a former West Point cadet, said she was pressured by upperclassmen to get drunk, and raped by a fellow student while intoxicated. The school responded to her report by making her take out her alleged attacker's trash. Kendzior said she was raped twice after entering the Naval Academy in 2008, and subsequently forced to leave the school when she reported the attacks to an academy counselor.
West Point and the Naval Academy are the elite military academies, where all the little G.I. Janes and Joes of America learn how to lead other people into combat and how to win at Risk and Battleship. These schools are supposed to attract the best sorts of candidates, — letter-making athletes, valedictorians, the girl and boy scouts of America — yet even at this supposedly elite level, accusations of sexual assault are seemingly ignored or covered up rather than addressed directly, probably because the administrators at these schools think that a sterling institutional reputation must be protected at all costs, even if it means undermining all the leadership values they're trying to teach future military officers.