Pentagon Faces Class Action Suit Exposing Military Sexual Abuse Crisis

Posted on February 15th, 2011 by Katherine Franke

Advocacy Organization Joins In Support Of Class Action Lawsuit Against Pentagon Leaders Gates, Rumsfeld To Combat Military Rape, Sexual Assault

From Tanya Domi:

Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), a national advocacy organization devoted to eliminating sexual violence in the U.S. military, led by executive director and former Marine Corps Captain Anu Bhagwati, are joining in support of a lawsuit filed against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for failure to make measurable progress and marked improvement to the Pentagon’s abysmal record that appears to tolerate sexual abuse and rape.

The lawsuit, brought on behalf of seventeen plaintiffs, including two men, was filed in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District in Virginia by Susan L. Burke, and announced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. No stranger to controversy, Burke is also litigating another major lawsuit against Blackwater, LLC, in a whistleblower case on behalf of the U.S. government. Burke was joined today by Bhagwati, Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Fund, and some of the plaintiffs participating in the lawsuit, including twenty-five year-old Kori Cioca (video) who said she was hit in her face by a superior in 2005 and later raped by the same man while serving in the Coast Guard.


Also a plaintiff in the suit, Panayiota Bertzikis, twenty-nine, a former Coast Guard member who was raped by a shipmate while on a social hike off-duty in 2006. Bertzikis, now the executive director of the Military Rape Crisis Center in Somerville, Mass., spoke about the broader problem of not just the occurrence of rape, which is vastly under reported — even according to the Department of Defense — but about the larger issue, which is the manner in which the military as a whole deals with rape, after it is reported.

“The problem of rape in the military is not only service members getting raped, but it’s the entire way that the military as a whole is dealing with it,” said Bertzikis, who added, “From survivors having to be involuntarily discharged from service, the constant verbal abuse, once a survivor does come forward your entire unit is known to turn their back on you. The entire culture needs to be changed.”

The AP reported this morning, “Bertzikis complained to her commanding officer, but she said authorities did not take substantial steps to investigate the matter. Instead, she said, they forced her to live on the same floor as the man she had accused and tolerated others calling her a “liar” and “whore.”

“Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in a statement that sexual assault is a wider societal problem and that Gates has been working to ensure the military is doing all it can to prevent and respond to it.

“That means providing more money, personnel, training and expertise, including reaching out to other large institutions such as universities to learn best practices,” Morrell said. “This is now a command priority, but we clearly still have more work to do in order to ensure all of our service members are safe from abuse.”

Retaliation by hostile commanders is not an uncommon occurance according to a number of these plaintiffs. Retaliation can include constant verbal abuse, blackballing of a unit member if she reports she was raped and command instigation that led to compromised privacy of a survivor’s allegations of rape or sexual assault.

“I stand in solidarity with the courageous men and women who have served in our nation’s armed services,” Bhagwati said. “The inspirational plaintiffs you see before you are a small handful of the tens of thousands of troops and veterans who have been sexually brutalized and physically and psycholoigically tortured by their fellow servicemembers while defending our nation.”

According to Bhagwati, in FY 2009, 3,230 servicemembers reported rape or sexual assault through the military. The DoD itself acknowledges that 80 percent of sexual assault survivors do not report the crime. According to this mathematical formula, 16,150 servicemembers were sexually assaulted. Currently, the DoD’s small “Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office” (SAPRO), which distributes posters, collects data, but has no enforcement or investigative authority to stem the time of sexual violence.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to add that I recently joined SWAN’s Board of Directors and jumped at the opportunity to support this ground breaking work, because SWAN is the first military veterans organization in the country to focus on the elimination of military rape and sexual abuse.

Along with its advocacy and policy work that includes working on the repeal of DADT, SWAN continues addressing homelessness among the veterans’ population which is substantially higher among women vets, who are also less likely to access the Veteran’s Administration for health care they maybe entitled to. Why go to a VA hospital or medical facility that caters to male diseases as these facilities are woefully inadequate or not properly staffed to treat women’s diseases? To add insult to injury, many women who are suffering PTSD from combat or military sexual violence related reasons, are many times sexually harassed in the hallways and sitting rooms of many VA facilities.

As a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Army, in which I began as a private and left as a captain, I can attest to the viciousness of many male colleagues. I know that many women soldiers, straight or lesbian, are vulnerable to a spectrum of harassment that begins with name-calling, escalates to a hostile work environment, and culminates in sexual assault.

GAO reports have documented the abysmal conditions that women cadets have endured at the military academies because of military sexual violence. In the most egregious cases, females have been raped in their own beds. The Pentagon leadership annually comes before Congress to tell our elected representatives, who possess oversight authority, that they will do better on the issue of reducing military rape. Many promises are made, nearly none fulfilled. Congress has done a miserable job carrying out its oversight function under both Democratic and Republican leadership.

Additionally, there has been little, if not neglible Presidential leadership on the issue of military rape and sexual assault during the history of our country, yet women have officially served in the ranks since World War II and are now serving in combat capacities in Afghanistan and Iraq, although not formally recognized.

If you are outraged by the epidemic of military rape and sexual assault that continues with impunity, show your concern by going to SWAN’s website to sign a  petition directed to Secretary Gates and the leaders of the Pentagon to stop these crimes against some of the most dedicated American citizens.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.  Cross posted from The New Civil Rights Movement


  1. Hey I really enjoyed reading your site . The information were really informative. Thank you so much!

  2. Hi all, I found your own web site via Google whilst looking for a related topic, your own website arrived upward, this looks good. I use bookmarked it inside my google book marks.

  3. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it grow over time.

  4. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Excellent .. Superb .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds additionally…I am satisfied to seek out so many useful info right here in the submit, we need work out extra strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  5. I think this is one of the most significant information for me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general things, The site style is great, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  6. Hi! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Thanks , I have just been searching for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far. However, what concerning the bottom line? Are you certain about the supply?

  8. Unilateral training from the legs builds not simply greater strength
    in each leg but better balance as well. These consultants understand many available technologies,
    aspect ratios, pixel densities, and display brightness effects.
    Throw out your poster boards and start optimizing the limitless technology that you have on hand
    to impress your coworkers, clients, as well as the world.

  9. This design is incredible! You definitely know how to keep
    a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was
    almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

    Too cool!

  10. I enjoy what you guys are up too. This type of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve included you guys to our blogroll.

  11. These companies make use of couriers who can carry samples and supplies
    from one location to another, he/she would surely select a courier company located close to your heart.
    In fact, not until the eve of the first Test of the same day to the UK
    for as little as 14 years, and, as the costs of transporting information in physical form.

  12. Peillon already has a bloody nose in another of the resolutions
    tabled at its annual general meeting on Friday after the company had cheap holidays abroad to make sure.
    Johnson Matthey 2, 280p down 49p, 2. The company has warned shareholders that
    failing to back a fundraising plan in a meeting next week” would result in the company seeking the appointment of administrators”,
    although bookings have improved in recent weeks.
    When planning your boating holidays there are
    a wide range of restaurants and nightlife.

  13. WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait ..

  14. The rest holiday deals were still making their way west on an even worse second night with winds of
    up to 20%. Sources say Thomas Cook is expected to close 200 shops and axe 1, 000
    high street travel and foreign exchange business. It means the balloon company may not be able to
    increase the retail presence of its products, not massively reduce it.

  15. Yippee! Finally located a property brew that sounds like it operates. I’ve been sugaring and waxing for almost twenty years I hate to shave. And I’ve often applied with hair, pull towards development. Now I know the best way (Thanks Caitlin and Courtney!) I love sugar vs wax way far more cleaner. Just glad I could make it myself now. Thanks!

  16. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really
    something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me.
    I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the
    hang of it!

  17. I have missing at least sixty lbs because sept 2011, and that i do not have unfastened skin…i do think relativey gradual soft gel slimming capsule would be the important…at times my skin had that empty walmart plastic sack glimpse, but it looked as if it would tighten up on it can be personal. My formerly ridiculous belly is simply about absolutely deflated, and no symptoms of loose skin…yay me.

  18. Hi, every time i used to check weblog posts here in the early hours
    in the dawn, since i enjoy to gain knowledge of more and

  19. Hola! I’ve been following your web site for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give
    you a shout out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent job!

  20. Informative and detailed post. Thanks for giving us such a useful information.

  21. very informative post. i was searching topic like this for my project and i struck here. amaingly written and very informative. thanks for this.

  22. whoah this blog is great i really like studying your articles. Stay up the good work! You understand, many persons are hunting around for this information, you can help them greatly.

  23. I do not even understand how I finished up right here, however I believed this put up was good. I don’t realize who you’re however certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger in the event you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  24. great post, great information..

  25. Hola! I’ve been following your web site for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give

  26. great post & great info.

  27. great post bro…

  28. Excellent! When something works, just reinforce it, right? Point out how well everything went when they make a certain decision and how if they make that again they can have a similar result. but i dont understand why the viewpoint changed drastically.

  29. Great Post. This type of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys.

Add a comment

Comments are subject to moderation and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
Columbia Law School or Columbia University.



"Homeland" Security Abortion Rights Activism Adoption adultery Advocacy Affordable Care Act Alien Tort Claims Act Amicus Brief Asylum Bankruptcy BDS Bullying Census Politics Children Citizenship Civil Unions Clinic Columbia Law School Compulsory Marriage Condoms Contraception Contraception Mandate Cordoba House Criminal Law Cures for Homosexuality Defense of Marriage Act Disability Rights Discrimination Divorce Domestic Partnership Domestic Violence Domestic Workers Don't Ask Don't Tell Earth Day Economic Justice Education Egypt Elections Employment Discrimination ENDA Estate Planning Events Family Law Fellowships femininity Feminism Free Speech Gender and Technology Gender Identity Discrimination Gendering the Economy Gender Justice GSL Online Haiti Hate Crimes Health Care Hilary Clinton Hillary Clinton Hiring HIV HIV Discrimination Hobby Lobby Homelessness Homophobia Housing Human Rights Identity Politics Illegitimacy (sic) Immigration Reform In-ing Incest India International Law Intersectional Feminism Islamophobia Israel Jobs Justice Sotomayor King & Spalding Labor Trafficking Land Reform Law School Legal Profession Legal Scholarship Lesbian & Gay Parenting LGBT Parenting Marital Status Discrimination Marriage Marriage Equality Masculinity Medicaid Michelle Obama Migration Military National Security Obama Administration Obama Appointments Obergefell Outing OWS Palestine Parenting Pinkwashing Policing Politics of the Veil Polyamory Popular Culture Pornograpy Pregnancy Presidential Politics Prisons Privacy Products Liability Profanity Prop 8 Prosecutorial Discretion Publications Public Rights/Private Conscience Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Queer Theory Queer vs. Gay Rights Race and Racism Racial Stereotyping Rape Religion Religious Accommodation Religious Exemption Religious Exemptions Religious Freedom Restoration Act Religious Fundamentalism Reproductive Rights Reproductive Technology RFRA Romania Rwanda Sartorial Commentary Schools Sex Discrimination Sex Education Sex Stereotyping Sexting Sex Trafficking Sexual Assault Sexual Duplicity Sexual Harassment Sexual Health Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Sexual Orientation Discrimination Sex Work Silencing of voices SMUG Sodomy Law Reform Solidarity Sports Supreme Court Surrogacy Technology Title IX Trafficking Transgender Uganda Uncategorized Violence Women and Poverty Women of Color Work Zimbabwe

Academic Calendar  |  Resources for Employers  |  Campus Map & Directory  |  Columbia University  |  Jobs at Columbia  |  Contact Us

© Copyright 2009, Columbia Law School. For questions or comments, please contact the webmaster.