Advocacy groups sue US military for sexual assault records

PHOTO: Members of the U.S. Army Drill Team perform in Times Square in New York City in honor of the Armys 240th birthday on June 12, 2015 in New York.Getty Images
Members of the U.S. Army Drill Team perform in Times Square in New York City in honor of the Army's 240th birthday on June 12, 2015 in New York.

Two advocacy groups are suing the U.S. military for records pertaining to sexual assault and the military justice system.

Protect Our Defenders and the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center filed a lawsuit with a Connecticut federal court on Wednesday against the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security "to release records related to gender disparities within the military justice system and the military record correction boards' handling of cases involving sexual assault and harassment."

The groups have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests with the various military services and the U.S. Coast Guard for information pertaining to sexual assault and the military justice system, but they argue the services' responses to those requests are often "insufficient" or incomplete.

"The military has resisted efforts to end the epidemic of sexual assault and retaliation within its ranks, despite years of Congressional attention and reform," Col. Don Christensen (USAF-Ret.), president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a press release. "Service members, Members of Congress, and the public deserve to know if the military unlawfully discriminates against female service members and survivors of sexual assault."

The records requested by Protect Our Defenders and the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center are separate from the sexual assault data released publicly by the Department of Defense, Christensen told ABC News.

Last month, the Department of Defense published the number of sexual assault reports made at U.S. military installations around the world for fiscal years 2013 through 2016.

In May, the department released their annual sexual assault report which estimated that the number of sexual assaults decreased 26.6 percent between 2014 and 2016, from 20,300 in 2014 to 14,900 last year.

Christensen said the information these organizations hope to obtain through the lawsuit include data about sexual assaults, but also look at the broader military justice system.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut),a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Armed Services Committees, applauded Wednesday's filling, saying in the press release that he hoped "this suit, combined with legislative action will begin to break down the unacceptable barriers to justice too many victims face."

"Survivors of military sexual assault are owed justice and openness in discharge proceedings. Instead, far too many are re-victimized by dishonorable discharges that bar them from receiving the services and recognition they need and deserve," Blumenthal said.

The Department of Justice, which defends federal agencies in lawsuits, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Comments