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Court Declares Government Response to Request for Military Sexual Trauma Records Insufficient
Defense and Veterans' Departments Failed to Adequately Respond to ACLU and Service Women’s Action Network's FOIA Request
NEW HAVEN - April 2 - A federal judge has ruled that the Departments of Defense and Veterans' Affairs have failed to adequately respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records documenting rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual harassment in the military. The 2010 FOIA request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Connecticut and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
"SWAN is pleased to learn of Judge Kravitz's Friday ruling in support of our claim that the DOD and VA have failed to provide adequate information to the public about how these agencies approach cases of sexual violence," said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network and former marine captain. "Since the first step in devising solutions to military sexual violence is understanding the root of the problem, the public needs this information in order to ensure meaningful reform."
It is estimated that more than 19,000 service members are sexually assaulted each year. In order to fully understand where the biggest flaws in the current military justice system surrounding sexual violence lie, the organizations are seeking access to key data in the thousands of reports filed, including where reports were made and how reports were handled.
“It's extremely troubling that the government is dragging its feet in the fight to end sexual assault and harassment in our military,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “It is essential that the truth about military sexual violence is exposed so we can move forward to better support victims and prevent incidents in the future.”
U.S. District Court Judge Mark R. Kravitz ruled late Friday that government officials from both departments did not conduct adequate searches to respond to portions of the FOIA request, or inadequately documented those searches. In one example, the Army Crime Records Center claimed it couldn't provide records about "sexual assault" because its records are organized by specific criminal offenses, not under the generic heading of "sexual assault."
“'Sexual assault' is easily read as encompassing rape and other non-consensual sexual crimes defined in the Army's offense codes,” Kravitz wrote in his order. “The fact that the agency was unwilling to read the Plaintiffs' request liberally to include such terms seems to be almost willful blindness.”
Kravitz ordered the departments to provide additional documentation related to the insufficient searches by May 15.
“In light of Judge Kravitz’s order, we urge the military agencies to move forward in good faith and search for and release all records responsive to our requests so that we may learn the true extent of military sexual assault,” said Sandra Staub, legal director for the ACLU-CT.
More information on this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/womens-rights/service-womens-action-network-v-department-de...