Military personnel who report rape and sexual assault are 12 times more likely to face retaliation than see their attacker convicted, according to a new report released Monday by Human Rights Watch, which interviewed roughly 150 current and recently retired service members who reported sexual assault.
The 118-page report found 62 percent said they faced retaliation after they made their report, listing examples ranging from threats and vandalism to discharges and criminal charges.
One of the women interviewed was Lt. Col. Teresa James, the highest ranking officer to come forward with a rape claim in the National Guard, according to a recent report by the Guard. The News4 I-Team first brought you her story when she said she believes her 34-year military career with the West Virginia National Guard was destroyed after she reported her rape.
Lt. Col. James attended the news conference and told the I-Team, "There's nothing else they can do to hurt me. They did everything they could possibly do. It's effecting change. That's why I'm out today. It's effecting change, and if I have to speak it, shout it from the rooftops, that's what I'm going to do."
Lt. Col. James said she’s going to appear before the Judicial Proceeding Panel at the Pentagon Tuesday as part of an independent review on how the military investigates sex assaults and retaliation. "I'm going to provide testimony on the impact that retaliation has had on me, my experience as a commander in the National Guard and ask the panel to look at National Guard reform in the future as well.”
The Human Rights Watch report wants the military to strengthen its Whistleblower Protection Act so it can punish service members who do retaliate against anyone reporting a rape or sexual assault.
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In a statement, a spokesperson with the Department of Defense tells News4, "We agree that ending retaliation is critical to effectively addressing sexual assault in the military" and "over the past year, we have intensified our attention to this issue and are taking a number of steps directed by the Secretary to better understand the problem and to address it."
Statement from the Department of Defense:
The department appreciates the research and insight provided by Human Rights Watch concerning retaliation against those who report military sexual assault.
We agree that ending retaliation is critical to effectively addressing sexual assault in the military, and we are open to any information, analysis, insight and partnerships that will help us craft and improve our way forward.
Supporting our survivors not only ensures that we are upholding our commitment to them, but also makes it more likely that others will come forward with unrestricted reports — the only way we can hold perpetrators appropriately accountable.
As Human Rights Watch notes in their report, department reforms to protect the rights of sexual assault victims show promise and have only begun to demonstrate their potential.
Over the past year, we have intensified our attention to this issue and are taking a number of steps directed by the Secretary to better understand the problem and to address it.
One thing that is happening right now: Commanders in monthly case management groups are proactively monitoring cases for retaliation and forwarding allegations to the proper authorities for investigation and follow up. Case management groups are held monthly at installations to track the response provided to every reported to law enforcement or command.
In addition, we are:
- Developing a Departmentwide strategy to prevent retaliation in reporting of all crimes
- Conducting training for first line supervisors — junior officers and enlisted supervisors — to lead sexual assault and prevention programs, and observe and intervene
- Conducting a comprehensive review of policy and procedures concerning retaliation,
- Changing the questions we ask for future surveys so that we will be able better capture victim experiences of retaliation, as it is described in new policy and law.
- Expanding our awareness campaign on reporting options for those who experience retaliation after making a report of sexual assault.