Sex Assaults Against Women in Military 'Epidemic'

GAO report finds sex assaults and rapes in military under-reported by half.

July 31, 2008, 4:53 PM

July 31, 2008 — -- Mary Lauterbach, the mother of murdered pregnant Marine Maria Lauterbach, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the military must change the way it deals with sexual assault to avoid more tragedies like her own.

"I believe Maria would be alive today if the Marine system had been different," her mother told a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing Thursday on sexual assault and rape in the military.

There were no representatives from the Marines at the hearing, and the head of the Pentagon office tasked with responding to the problem of sexual assault in the military was ordered by her superiors not to testify despite a subpoena from the committee.

Lauterbach told lawmakers the chain of command at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina did not do enough to protect her daughter after she accused Cpl. Cesar Laurean of raping her. Military brass was slow to act, even after Maria's car was vandalized and she was punched in the face.

"They didn't believe it was anything," Lauterbach told lawmakers. "Maria had asked ... she goes, 'I would like to be transferred from Camp Lejeune.' They said, 'Don't bother. It's not going to happen.'"

Rep. Bruce Braley, whose congressional district includes Dubuque, Iowa, where yesterday they mourned the murder of Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc, said this is not an isolated incident. Wimunc's husband, a Marine corporal, has been charged with her murder.

At Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, another pregnant soldier was killed more than a month ago and the father of her baby, Sgt. Edgar Patino, was arrested this week and charged with her murder.

"This is not an isolated thing we're talking about," Braley said.

While the military has come a long way since the days of the Tailhook scandal 15 years ago -- which is credited with creating a safer environment for female service members -- Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said there remains an "epidemic of assault and rape against women in our military."

"Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire in Iraq," Harman said.

A GAO report released today found that instances of rape and sexual assault are under-reported in the military by as much as half.

The GAO report found some victims in the military do not report sexual assault because they fear "that nothing will be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip."

Lawmakers could not ask Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Pentagon, to address the issue of sexual assault and what steps have been taken because Deputy Defense Undersecretary Michael Dominguez had barred Whitley from testifying, despite a Congressional subpoena.

Dominguez told the lawmakers he knew everything about the program and didn't need Whitley's input to answer their questions.

Dominguez was given a bipartisan dressing down on this point by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the Oversight Committee. "I don't know who you think elected you to defy the congress of the United States," he said.

Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., the ranking member, said he will support Waxman's pledge to hold Whitley and Dominguez in contempt. They dismissed Dominguez without taking his testimony.

Testifying alongside Lauterbach was Ingrid Torres, who told the lawmakers that when she moved overseas as a Red Cross worker assigned to the American military, she was excited "to be doing a job that could make a difference to those serving their country, especially during a time of war."

But a year later in Korea, Torres was raped in her sleep by a military doctor after taking an Ambien.

The perpetrator, then the installation flight doctor, has since been convicted, kicked out of the military and placed in confinement. But Torres said the military has a long way to go helping female soldiers and civilians who are the victims of rape and sexual assault.

"I, as the victim, made others feel more uncomfortable than him, as the accused," she told a House panel. Later, she said, "a psychologist told me I was acting like a baby."

Torres said the military should streamline its programs across bases and branches to combat sexual assault and rape.

Lt. General Michael Rochelle told lawmakers about a comprehensive prevention campaign in the works by the Army and the increased advocacy for victims and training for all levels of soldier enacted in the past several years.

Rochelle offered an "apology to any, any soldier who has worn the uniform and suffered out of sexual assault."

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