Accountability for Sexual Assault Perpetrators in the Military

Recent news coverage surrounding sexual assaults in the military has exposed a shockingly widespread pattern of brutality against some of our service members. That sort of violence perpetuated against those who chose to dedicate their lives to protect our country is deplorable.  As is a military system that discourages victims from reporting the incidents in the first place, while failing to respond to those reports that are filed. Even worse, active duty military are actually barred from bringing discrimination or personal injury civil court claims after a sexual assault. The result is that those who perpetrate these horrific crimes cannot be held accountable for their acts.  

Accountability not only serves as a way to help compensate victims.  It serves as a powerful deterrent against others who may be inclined toward similar acts.

It’s an outrageous fact that one in four female soldiers have been sexually assaulted-  a statistic that is much higher than for civilian women. Yet the avenue for justice for these brave service women was closed back in 1950 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case known as Feres v. United States.  

In Feres the Court ruled that service members cannot hold our government accountable for injuries sustained during active duty, even when those injuries stemmed from negligence.  The ruling has stood firm for 63 years, leaving untold numbers of victims for whom justice was never a possibility.

During the 112th Congress, Representative Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the “Holley Lynn James Act” (H.R. 1517) to address the systematic failure of the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) to prevent and address military sexual trauma. The bill provided a civil remedy for our soldiers, sailors and Marines when they are victims of sexual trauma or domestic violence.  The bill would have allowed them to hold the D.O.D. accountable for any wrongful act or omission relating to or arising out of sexual assault, rape or domestic violence.  

A civil remedy like this would have forced the D.O.D to be responsible for such atrocious behavior within its ranks. It would have allowed survivors of military sexual trauma their day in court.  

Today, sexual assault remains a rampant problem. While soldiers dedicate their lives to protecting us, it is crucial that we too work to protect them. Congress needs to address this issue in a manner that these brave men and women deserve.