McLEAN, Va. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against former defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates by 28 military members and veterans who said they were victims of sexual assault.
The suit, filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, alleged Rumsfeld and Gates fostered a culture that allowed rapists to thrive and punished assault victims for filing complaints against their attackers.
But in a ruling issued Friday, Judge Liam O'Grady said the judiciary should not intervene in matters involving military discipline and dismissed the case, even though he called the victims' allegations troubling.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Susan Burke, did not immediately respond to an e-mail Wednesday asking whether she would appeal.
In one example, an Army Reservist said two male colleagues raped her in Iraq and videotaped the attack. She complained to authorities but says charges weren't filed because the commander did not think she acted like a rape victim.
One of the plaintiffs, Rebekah Havrilla of West Columbia, S.C., said in response to the ruling, "It is now practically impossible to get the judicial system to provide any remedy for those that have been victimized by the inadequate military system."
Havrilla, an Army sergeant from 2004 to 2009, was deployed to Afghanistan. In the lawsuit, she alleged that a colleague raped her and photographed the attack. When she sought counsel from the military chaplain, he told her it must have been God's will for her to be raped and recommended more frequent church attendance. The attack occurred at a time when she was subjected to routine harassment from her supervisor, who slapped her on the bottom and kissed and bit her on the back of the neck, according to the suit.
Havrilla is now a staff member for the Service Women's Action Network, which was founded in 2007 by female veterans to advocate for victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. Although The Associated Press normally does not identify the victims of sexual assault, Havrilla agreed to allow her name to be used.
Greg Jacob, the network's policy director, called the judge's ruling unacceptable and "a tragic comment on the issue of military sexual assault."
Statistics collected by the Pentagon show more than 3,000 reports of sexual abuse in the military in fiscal year 2010, but only 529 went to trial. The Pentagon estimates that the vast majority of assaults go unreported altogether.