SWAN and ACLU File Lawsuit Seeking Military Sexual Trauma Records Withheld by Federal Government

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brad Luna, Luna Media Group (on behalf of SWAN), (202) 812-8140
William Bornstein or Taylor Asen, Yale Law Veterans Clinic, (952) 913-6887 or (207) 653-6663
Robyn Shepherd, ACLU national, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Andrew Schneider, ACLU of Connecticut, (860) 523-9146, ext. 219

SWAN and ACLU File Lawsuit Seeking Military Sexual Trauma Records Withheld by Federal Government

Thousands of Service Members Denied Recourse or Benefits for Trauma

NEW HAVEN, CT - The Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), the American Civil Liberties
Union and the ACLU of Connecticut filed a lawsuit today with the U.S.
District Court in New Haven, Connecticut against the Department of
Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs for their failure to respond
to Freedom of Information Act requests seeking government records
documenting incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in
the military. Tens of thousands of service members each year are
estimated to have experienced some form of military sexual trauma (MST).
These acts occur nearly twice as often within military ranks as they do
within civilian society.

"The government's
refusal to even take the first step of providing comprehensive and
accurate information about the sexual trauma inflicted upon our women
and men in uniform, and the treatment and benefits MST survivors receive
after service, is all too telling," said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former
Marine captain and Executive Director of SWAN. "The DOD and VA should
put the interests of service members first and expose information on the
extent of sexual trauma in the military to the sanitizing light of
day."

The lawsuit filed
today states that the goal of the lawsuit is to "obtain the release of
records on a matter of public concern, namely, the prevalence of MST
within the armed services, the policies of the DOD and VA regarding MST
and other related disabilities, and the nature of each agency's response
to MST."

"The known
statistics on military sexual trauma suggest that sexual abuse is all
too prevalent in our military," said Sandra Park, staff attorney with
the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "But we know that many service members
who suffer from abuse are not receiving the treatment they need. The
truth about the extent of this abuse and what has been done to address
it must be made known."

MST is
particularly widespread among servicewomen, many of whom struggle to
return to civilian life after suffering sexual assault or harassment
while serving. While the number of homeless veterans has declined over
the past 10 years, the number of homeless women veterans has doubled. In
fact, 40 percent of homeless women veterans have been sexually
assaulted while serving in the armed forces.

Survivors' VA
disability claims are often rejected because they cannot prove an
initial assault or rape, even if the veteran has been diagnosed with
post-traumatic stress disorder by a VA military sexual trauma counselor.

"The government is
failing to care for the overwhelming number of women who so desperately
need help coping with something as devastating as rape, sexual assault
and harassment," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU
of Connecticut. "These women have already put their lives on the line by
serving their country. The least that the government can do is disclose
the scope of the problem."

Counsel on the case include William Bornstein, Taylor Asen and Michael
Wishnie of the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic; Park and
Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project; and Sandra Staub of
the ACLU of Connecticut.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at: www.aclu.org/womens-rights/swan-aclu-and-aclu-connecticut-v-department-defense-and-department-veterans-affairs-co

###

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Share This Article

More in: