19 Service Members Are Suing the Defense Secretary For Not Taking Sexual Assault Allegations Seriously

Want to hear a truly horrible tale of power-tripping coercion? Care of The Daily Beast:

Daniele Hoffman was 17 years old when she met the recruiter for the National Guard who she says eventually attempted to rape her. The child of a single mother, Hoffman says the man "became the fatherly figure in my life." She signed up for service both to "give back to my country and to make him proud. I wouldn't have joined if it weren't for his influence."

But then, she says, the recruiter began to touch her inappropriately, make physical advances, and eventually attempted to rape her, warning her not to tell anyone by saying, "I gave you everything you have, and I can take it all away."

She's one of nineteen former and current U.S. military service members who are suing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (and others who have held the position) due to sexual assault allegations that the plaintiffs say were brushed off by the military.

According to Panetta, around 19,000 sexual assaults allegedly occurred in the military last year, but only 20 percent were actually reported due to fears of retaliation. Here's the big problem, according to the lawsuit: military members don't want to talk about sexual assault because "the reality" is that the officer they're supposed to report to "may well be a sexual predator himself." Defendants can go on and on about "zero tolerance' and systematic reform regarding rape and sexual assault," but, the suit reads, "this rhetoric has failed to change the misogynistic culture of the Army and has not resulted in any meaningful reform or reduction in sexual assaults."

Consider the case of Jeffrey Sinclair, the brigadier general with a bevy of awards and 27 years of experience who was charged with numerous counts of sexual assault just this week. "He's exactly the kind of person that was the intermediary between victims and the justice system," said Washington, D.C., attorney Susan L. Burke, who regularly represents plaintiffs who say their rights have been violated by the military. "How many rape investigations did he pass on?"

And how many more cases will it take until the military reforms the way it handles sexual assault allegations?

Service Members Sue Defense Secretary Over Alleged Military Rapes [The Daily Beast]

(Image via U.S. Army Flickr)