A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
Seventeen veterans and active-duty service members filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon. They accuse the U.S. military of permitting a culture that tolerates rape and sexual assault. Seeking accountability in the armed forces.
- Anu Bhagwati the executive director of Service Women's Action Network and a Marine Corp veteran.
- Mary Gallagher Technical Sergeant in the Air National Guard, plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Pentagon.
- Rebekah Havrilla Sergeant served in the Army from January 2004 until September of 2009, plaintiff in lawsuit against the Pentagon.
- Susan Burke the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon.
- Kaye Whitley director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Sexual assault and rape in the military is not a new occurrence, but new lawsuit says the Pentagon has repeatedly failed to take action in these cases, creating a culture where violence against women is tolerated. Joining me in the studio to talk about the lawsuit, Susan Burke, she is the lead attorney in the case against the Pentagon. Good morning to you, Susan.
MS. SUSAN BURKEGood morning. Thank you for having me.
REHMThanks for being here. Joining us from NPR's New York bureau, Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women's Action Network. Good morning, Anu.
MS. ANU BHAGWATIGood morning.
REHMAnd from WBUR in Boston, Sgt. Mary Gallagher of the Air Force National Guard. Mary, it's good to have you with us.
SGT. MARY GALLAGHERThank you.
REHMAnd joining us from her home in Columbia, S.C., Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla. Good morning to you, Rebekah.
SGT. REBEKAH HAVRILLAGood morning.
REHMBoth of the latter two are plaintiffs in this case. I do want to caution our listeners. Some of what you're about to hear may be disturbing, but I do want to let you know that up front. Before we begin our conversation with these four women, joining us from her office in Washington, D.C., is Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Good morning, Kaye.
MS. KAYE WHITLEYGood morning, Ms. Rehm.
REHMPlease call me Diane. And tell us what the Department of Defense is doing to fight this problem of sexual assaults within the military.
WHITLEYYes, ma'am. One thing I'd like to point out is sexual assault is a national problem, and it's one of our nation's most underreported crimes. So we realize that we have to deal with that also in our armed forces. And we have put very comprehensive programs together since 2004 that focus on preventing these assaults before they occur. And we've put victim services programs in place, and we have put in accountability piece. And, yesterday, on the Hill, the secretary re-emphasized his commitment to preventing these assaults and to providing services for victims.
REHMI certainly realize you can't comment on the specific cases that are outlined in the complaints, but tell me about the progress you feel the Pentagon is making in dealing with the issue.
WHITLEYWell, first, I do want to say that my heart goes out to any victim of sexual assault. It's one of the most horrible crimes that anyone should ever have to endure, and, I think, that's behind our commitment to this. One of the things that we have done is to put a prevention strategy in place. And we use the concept of bystander intervention, which trains our service members to stand up and intervene to prevent sexual assaults from occurring. We also have put procedures in place to help victims. And one that I really want to talk about today is our new hotline. And it's going to debut, probably, the first week in April. And we're working with an organization called the Rape, Abused, Incest National Network, and they're going to run this hotline for us. We -- it's in testing mode right now.
WHITLEYAnd we're ensuring that any service member, anywhere in the world, anytime, 24/7, can reach this hotline. There are three ways that you can get help. One is you can pick up the phone, of course, like a traditional hotline and talk to a person that can refer you to a sexual assault response coordinator in the military or even our Local Rape Crisis Center. There's also a way to go online and chat and get referrals and to get help. And we also have a texting service. So people can pick up their cell phone and text their location, and they will be given a phone number to call for help. We think it's going to be successful because this type of technology resonates so much with this younger age group where most of these sexual assaults occur.
REHMI understand. And, of course, that would occur after the fact, in 2009, there were over 3,200 complaints of sexual abuse in the military. But only an 8 -- estimated 8 percent were prosecuted. How come?
WHITLEYWell, within the military, we have eight categories of sexual assault in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In those eight categories are the lower level, wrongful sexual contact, all the way up to aggravated assault and rape. So when we report our numbers, it's all of those categories. And when we report our numbers, it's also -- our total number includes -- it's an incident-based report. In other words, it's an incident where either the victim or the perpetrator was a military person and -- or a uniformed service member. And then all of those cases, there -- sometimes there are reasons that commanders can't prosecute. So you have to take those numbers out.
WHITLEYOne of the things I want to point out, though, is we are getting better in terms of prosecuting these cases. And we've put a lot of resources toward it. We've hired dozens more investigators and field instructors and prosecutors. My office secured almost $3 million to train these people in all of the services so that we can get better. One -- and one of the things, in March, we're going to release a report, and that report shows that our courts-martials have increased from 30 to 52 percent. So we are moving, I think, in the right direction showing progress at holding offenders accountable.
REHMTell me what kinds of help are available immediately to women or men who've been assaulted or stalked.
WHITLEYWell, one of the things that our new program did when we stood up, back in 2004 and 2005, was to ensure there was a 24/7 response system in place. And we created the position of sexual assault response coordinator, and we have them stationed around the world at every base and every installation so that victims can -- even in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that victims can get help anytime that they need help. And, of course, one of the things we struggle with and one of the things that the secretary mentioned yesterday in his testimony is the stigma of reporting. It's very difficult for anyone to report a sexual assault, and it's difficult in the military as well.
WHITLEYPeople are so hesitant in the military to ask for help and not just in sexual assault but other areas. We're trying to encourage servicemen and women to come forward if they need help of any kind. And we're working hard to build a climate of confidence that will help reduce that stigma and get them in for help 'cause our number goal is to help victims of sexual assault. We know early intervention after any trauma can help that victim from getting the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
REHMKaye, I think those are good moves on the part of the military. But what happens if a woman or a man goes to a commanding officer or a chaplain and tells them what has happened and is told, well, forget it?
WHITLEYWell, one of the things that we have in place is a very active commander training program, so all commanders have been trained and educated on this issue. We also have trained chaplains. But what I would say to any victims out there, that that's why we have the sexual assault response coordinator. That person is trained to help them navigate the system. And a victim can feel very alone if this happens to them and that's what the SARC is for. And we also have a mechanism that people may not know about and that is, we have a website. It's www.sapr.mil. And there's a general mailbox.
WHITLEYAnd if there's any victims out there that do not feel they're getting the treatment they deserve, if they will contact me through that hotline, I do have -- we do have a victim advocacy program in our office where we work with the services to resolve issues that are in the field. So I would urge everyone out there to let us know if things are not going the way they should. We also -- the safe helpline also has a way that you can contact us if you need assistance navigating the system.
REHMAnd we do have a link to your website at our website, drshow.org. Finally, I would think it might be even more difficult for members of the military to provide help to service members who are deployed abroad.
WHITLEYWell, there are a lot of issues when service members are abroad. It makes everything a lot more difficult. But we do have a program in place, and there is -- there are SARCs and victim advocates that are deployable that go with the units, should a sexual assault occur.
REHMHow many of those would be available, for example, for each division deployed in Afghanistan?
WHITLEYWell, it's -- actually, it depends on the service 'cause all of the services are organized differently. But for bases or installations, there should be at least one SARC. Some are large bases and installations, so they may have several sexual assault -- but, I think, all total, we have over 17- or 18,000 people around the world that are either SARCs or victim advocates or deployable unit victim advocates that are available to assist victims.
REHMI wonder, Kaye, as you look at this whole problem, do you see it on the increase? Do you see the number of complaints increasing?
WHITLEYWell, the report that we're going to deliver on March 15 is actually showing a slight decrease. But, you know, as you know and as we've talked about before, the number of reports are -- they don't tell you anything but the number of reports. So we're trying to do other research to indicate how many sexual assaults are actually going on and doing our best to put the programs in place to assist them.
REHMI'm glad. Thank you for joining us. Kaye Whitley, she is director of the DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
REHMAnd, now, having heard from Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, turning to you now, Susan Burke, tell us about the lawsuit that has been brought against the Pentagon, what it's intended to do.
BURKECertainly, Diane. The lawsuit is brought to try to reform what is clearly a broken system. What we have learned from interviewing hundreds of victims is that there is widespread retaliation against men and women that come forward and report rapes and sexual assaults. The programs that Dr. Whitley spoke of are all simply focused on handholding to the victim, but they lack any kind of clout. The SARCs themselves do not have any power vis-à-vis the military chain of command. Many of the SARCs are in the military chain of command and are willing to work at command's direction, rather than actually advocate for the victims.
BURKESo you have a completely dysfunctional system in which the victims have to face day-by-day workplace retaliation. So we're seeking a constitutional -- finding that Secretary Gates and former Secretary Rumsfeld have let such an obviously broken system go forward for so long, that they have deprived the plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.
REHMTell me how these plaintiffs came to your attention.
BURKEI was originally contacted by a civilian, a woman named Christy Smith who had been raped by a service member, ended up going through the military system of justice with just dismal results. The prosecutor lost the physical evidence -- her underwear. The court martial went badly. Then the poor thing, six months later, after this, she gets a phone call from somebody in the military saying, oh, please come pick up your things. And, in fact, it was the underwear. It had been there the whole time. So I was just simply, you know, staggered by that level of incompetence in the prosecutorial ranks. And I spoke with her about the situation and whether we could help her.
BURKEThat led me to begin to investigate the issue of how rape is handled in the military system. I'm actually a child of a career military, so I'm somewhat familiar with, you know, the military system, having grown up on army bases my whole life. But, nonetheless, I was just shocked when I read Helen Benedict's "The Lonely Soldier" book, began to look at the reports, began to look at what Congress has done because what you see is a lengthy pattern of Congress telling the Department, do something effective, clean this problem up, and the Department, really, just blowing it off and not taking any type of effective steps.
REHMSusan Burke, she is the plaintiffs' lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. Rebekah Havrilla, how long were you in the military? And give us a sense of the atmosphere that was there for you as a woman.
HAVRILLAI joined the military in January of 2004, and I got out of active duty in January of 2008. So I did my four years and pretty much threw in the towel. When I joined the military, I was a little go-getter, and I did very well, initially. I was the honor graduate of my basic training company, and I did very well in training. But even before I got to my first unit, I was already being warned, hey, you know, look out for your first sergeant. He's already had sexual harassment charges brought against him and was well aware at that point, too, that, you know, the females in my job -- my doing EOD -- were very few and far in between.
HAVRILLAAnd that is a very hyper-masculine culture. I mean -- and as a woman going into a very masculinized culture like that, I mean, there's things that you -- you want to still fit in. You want to be capable and confident and have the men respect you and do your job well. But, as I progressed through the first couple of years, you know, things just continued to occur -- the comments that were made, the lines and boundaries that got blurred and got pushed. And it just continued to go downhill. And it culminated with my deployment in Afghanistan with a team leader that was very sexually abusive on an almost daily basis, in many different ways, and my rape from a colleague that I worked with.
REHMWas there sexual assault prevention training during your deployment to Afghanistan?
HAVRILLAThere was. But it was pretty much made a mockery of. In one instance, we were doing our PowerPoints, just basically to check the block to say that you've done it. And one of our sergeants at the time decided that he was going to strip naked and dance on the table. And even as you were going through the slides and you talk about, you know, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, there'd be comments about how, oh, I just did that last night, or a action from one male to even another male trying to simulate what was told was just inappropriate behavior. So the training pretty much was just, here, let's click through these PowerPoints, let's make fun of what we're reading and check the block and go about our daily business.
REHMWhat happened after you were raped?
HAVRILLAAfter I was raped, I came back to the United States, and I filed a restricted report against both my team leader and the man that raped me. And that was a big step for me, actually. Even just speaking out, even though it was a restricted option, was a big step for me in actually just saying, hey, look, this is wrong. And, you know, maybe I'm not doing a full investigation, but I'm telling somebody. Somebody needs to know about this. It needs to be on record somewhere.
REHMAnd what was the reaction you got?
HAVRILLAIt was -- the reaction from the sexual assault response coordinators was supportive. But, you know, with me choosing to do a restricted report that it was just take the information and file it in a filing cabinet somewhere or whatever they do with restriction reports when they get them. And there really was not any other recourse at that time.
REHMRebekah Havrilla, she was a sergeant in the Army from January 2004 until September of 2009. She is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. Turning to you, Mary Gallagher, how long have you been in the military? What was the atmosphere like for you as a woman?
GALLAGHERWell, I was in -- I've been in 12 years. And I would say that, being in the Air Force, it's a little bit different than what Rebekah experienced just because, in the field I was in, there were more women. So, initially, the first 10 years that I was in -- of course, there was -- you know, you're in a male-dominated profession, so, of course, there are comments and things. But it wasn't anywhere what I experienced once I deployed to Iraq. You know, it was just like -- it was almost like this was just -- at times, it felt like a, you know, college frat house, you know, the way that people were acting and their behavior. And then the harassment that I went through, and then the -- which led to the eventual rape.
REHMAnd did you report that rape? Did you report the sexual harassment?
GALLAGHERThe -- initially, the harassment, I did report to my supervisor. And she basically said to me, it's he said, she said, and, you know, you just kind of need to, like, roll with it. And, you know, I don't really want to deal with it. And it kept persisting, and so I reported it again. And at that point, she had me go see the chaplain, and the chaplain said to me, you know, 96 percent of women are assaulted because they've been drinking. Well, this was a ridiculous statement because you can't drink in -- you know, alcohol in Iraq.
GALLAGHERIt's, you know -- one, it's a Muslim country, and you're in the AOR. So, you know, this is what I dealt with. And so, when the rape actually happened, I did not report it. But what I had been doing was speaking to my commander back here in the United States, and eventually, he requested that I return. And when I came back here to the U.S., I did report the rape. Just like Rebekah, I did it on a restricted basis.
REHMAnd what was the response you got when you did so?
GALLAGHERWell, my unit back here in the U.S. was very supportive. And they immediately had me go into counseling, and they took a statement. But, you know, the situation is that there isn't really much to do because, one, it had happened, you know, in Iraq, not here within my unit here. So there wasn't really any recourse, and, basically, it's like, you know, we're sorry this happened to you. They -- you know, the -- my advocate has been very good, but there's just -- there's no real recourse they can take because it happened in Iraq, not here in the U.S.
REHMMary, what recourse do you want to see taken? Why have you entered the lawsuit?
GALLAGHERWell, it wasn't an easy decision to do this. I mean -- but I would probably say is I was -- I came in to serve my country, and I've put -- committed 12 years of my life to this. And I love the Air Force, and I believe that military service is good. But what we need to do is have leaders who take complaints and -- especially, complaints of sexual harassment and/or rape, very serious and deal with it, instead of saying, well, you know what, I don't feel like being an NCO today or a commander, so I'm not going to handle this. You know, I just want to do my tour of duty and go home.
GALLAGHERAnd we just need to have an atmosphere, I think, too, that says to people, hey, when this happens, there are going to be consequences to it. And, right now, just as Rebekah was saying, they don't -- this training is a joke. I mean, you just do a online computer course, and you sit through a one-hour class once a year. Nobody is really taking this training seriously, so, I mean, that really has to change.
REHMMary Gallagher, she is a technical sergeant in the Air National Guard. She is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. Turning to you, Anu Bhagwati, of the military women you speak to, are Mary's and Rebekah's experiences common?
BHAGWATIThey are common in the sense that they've been terrorized by their perpetrators, and they obviously didn't feel safe enough in filing an unrestricted report, which would had -- which would have triggered an investigation. You know, the main difference here with military culture is that service members have very limited legal redress. They know that perpetrators are not likely to be prosecuted, are not likely to see the inside of a courtroom, that most are likely to get off with a slap on the wrist.
BHAGWATIThey also know that their fellow service members and their chain of command are likely to intimidate them, discourage them from speaking out, accuse them of lying, in fact, punished and retaliate against them for coming forward. So, you know, as Rebekah indicated, what's the use of just having your information filed away in a database and the perpetrator literally just being allowed to run free and prey upon the next victim? Most...
REHMAnu Bhagwati, she is executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. She is a Marine Corps veteran. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I wonder, Susan Burke, if you can explain the difference between restricted reporting and unrestricted reporting.
BURKEYes. This is essentially a unique military creation that has, again, been a misdirected effort that -- rather than tackling the omnipresent retaliation that occurs, they created an avenue for those who have been raped and sexually assaulted to report on a completely confidential basis. And there's not much -- there's nothing that comes of it. The problem is that, even there, even though that confidentiality is supposed to encourage more and more survivors to come forward in order to access the health care treatment that's available to them, the reality is that it often leaks out.
BURKEAnd they end -- the survivors end up enduring the very retaliation that they sought to avoid by going the restricted reporting route, so there's serious issues of the focus of the departments' efforts. And the unrestricted reporting, which is not nearly -- which is not used nearly as often as the restricted reporting, is what we would normally think of when a crime occurs.
REHMWhat about the two men who are part of this lawsuit? Explain what happened to them.
BURKEYes. In both instances, they were harassed, and they were violated. One was groped, and then, when he went to report it, he became the subject of a pervasive amount of physical abuse against him as he was on the ship. The other gentleman was raped in the barracks. And when he went to report it to his command, they simply laughed at him. So the reality is that this is not -- this -- rape and the sexual assault's not limited to females. It is also occurring among the males as well. And, again, you have the widespread retaliation, the scorn, the disbelief. In addition, there is the constant statement, well, now, you don't -- you know, don't rock the boat. You're a troublemaker. You don't -- don't be reporting on your own.
BURKEThese cultural messages, that you really risk your career if you step forward. And most tellingly, one of the survivors who has joined the lawsuit is a woman who was actually a criminal investigative division agent. When she was raped, she opted not to report it because she knew that it would not be taken seriously. It was only after her perpetrator went on for the next two years, raping additional women, did a CID officer hear of what happened to her and come and ask her to come forward. You know, that is a very telling story about what all of these victims of rape and sexual abuse are confronting.
REHMIs there any indication that incidents of abuse are escalating in the military? You heard Kaye Whitley say that, from her experience, it looks as though they're decreasing.
BURKEThe reality is that the department has no way of knowing because they have let persist a culture that squelches the reporting. You know, most people who want to remain in the military as a career will not report rape or sexual harassment. It...
REHMBecause if they report, what happens?
BURKEIt is a career ender. And that is why this notion that we hear from the secretary and Dr. Whitley and others that the military is simply grappling with what society at large grapples with is misleading. In fact, in the military, unlike in the civilian world, it's a career ender to be raped. And so that is what needs to be tackled, the retaliation and the role, the unique role that the commanders play.
REHMWhat do you hope to accomplish with this lawsuit?
BURKEI would like to see that the commander's ability to interfere with impartial investigations of crimes stopped. That is the weak point in the system. In fact, I don't know whether you noticed, but during Dr. Whitley's comments, she mentioned the different -- that they have different levels and so forth and different reasons why things would not be prosecuted. And one was just a reference to -- well, that the commanders cannot prosecute. When you really dig in to that, what you learn is that a commander has complete discretion as to whether or not a criminal investigation goes forward.
REHMSusan Burke, she is plaintiffs' lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. When we come back, more conversation and your calls. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about a lawsuit against the Pentagon brought by 17 plaintiffs. Susan Burke is the lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. And we're going to open the phones now as we talk about sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape. Fifteen women, two men have joined this lawsuit. Let's go first to Jim in Laurel, Md. Good morning.
JIMHi. What the military wants to do -- they don't want bad publicity. So, naturally, they want to believe that there's less -- they don't want to believe there's rape. But the other side of it is even more pernicious, where they get very bad publicity if they tell how many false rape accusations. I'm taking this from Warren Farrell's book, "Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say." There's a guy who did a study, found 60 percent of the rapes were unfounded using very conservative methods and has -- the reaction to the Air Force was he was -- this is a quote, "Dr. McDowell was ostracized and moved, the Air Force equivalent of being sent to Siberia."
JIMAnd that's, you know, the military wants to have very good relations with women. That's why they're friends with Jessica Lynch. They made a hero out of her, but you only hear the one side of it. You really should meet some people on the other side. I mean, there's two problems -- rape and false accusation.
REHMSusan Burke, false accusations?
BURKEWell, certainly the statistics cited by the caller are ones that I'm not familiar with and will not comment on that. But, clearly, the issue here is investigation and adjudication. If an allegation of rape is brought forward in an impartial manner, properly investigated by people who are not in the chain of command and whose careers are not either helped of hurt by the outcome, you're going to likely -- to have a sense of justice. That is just not happening here.
BURKEInstead, you have the people that are coming forward being threatened. They will be told that, oh, they're making a false allegation, that they're going to be court-martialed for lying or they're going to be written up for having had alcohol or various other, you know, military code of conduct issues that are then thrown against them as a way to evade true impartial investigations.
REHMMary Gallagher, were you worried about being accused of false allegations?
GALLAGHERYou know, a little bit. But mostly what my -- I was really scared for my life, especially after the rape actually happened. I was terrified. And, you know, you're already in a war zone situation, so your senses are up. And my fear was -- is that, you know, when I had reported the harassment and they hadn't done anything when the rape happened, that's why I didn't report it. Because I didn't feel like they were going to do anything. And so it was just like I felt so isolated and so alone, but as far as, you know, that people would think that it was false, you know, no. But when I did report the harassment, everybody was like, well, you know -- they would always try to explain it away or dismiss it. And so it always leads to a point that, you know, they just don't really want to deal with it.
REHMHere is a...
BHAGWATICan I jump in here?
REHMSure. Go ahead.
BHAGWATIYeah, this is Anu. Yeah, the McDowell checklist has been completely debunked. That's something that the caller referred to. I mean, it -- essentially, it propagates rape mythology and victim blaming. You know, it accuses women of making things up, you know, blames them for drinking, so on and so forth. And so, I mean, it's not even worth really discussing. In a vast majority of these cases, women and men are retaliated against for stepping forward, doing the right thing and attempting to use their chain of command.
BHAGWATII mean, as a Marine Corps officer, Marines came to me with these complaints. I did the right thing, brought it to my chain of command, and, you know, field grade officers regularly just transferred sexual predators outside the unit instead of prosecuting or investigating and, instead, punished men and women in their own command for reporting abuse.
REHMHere's a message on Facebook from Leah who says, "I was in military intelligence back in the 1980s where people were supposed to be of a higher caliber. I left because of the horrific behavior allowed. The U.S. military was proud of its culture of ignorance. I was disgusted by it." Rebekah, any comment?
HAVRILLAIt just seems that not much has changed. We still deal with a lot of the same issues that many women have dealt with back in the '80s and '90s, and all we seem to get is another study and more lip service. And there needs to be some concrete changes, not just another study, not just another, oh, well, this is the problem. Well, it's time to fix the problem.
REHMAll right. To Ann in Kalamazoo, Mich. Good morning. You're on the air.
ANNI wanted to call to totally agree with the women on your panel. I served for 10 years on active duty in the military. I was assaulted three times throughout my career by both enlisted and officers. When I told my supervisor, the attitude was, well, you joined this men's club. What do you expect?
ANNI did not drink or socialize with any of the men of my unit because I was married. I didn't even tell my husband about any of the assaults because I was afraid he would jeopardize his career by going, you know, forward and, you know, discussing it with the people that had done this. But what's surprising more was the attitude in the VA system when I got out. I was assaulted by a doctor at a VA hospital. And when I reported it, the head of the hospital called me and told me, if this actually did happen, we'll check into it. And that's the last thing I ever heard.
ANNAnd that doctor is still there. And that was witnessed by three women assistants in the office at the time, which totally stunned me. And they didn't say anything while this was going on.
BURKEIt is that type of personal testimony that -- it just needs to sound a loud alarm here. We have got -- as a nation, we have got to fix this system, and Secretary Gates is responsible for doing so.
BHAGWATIAnd I'll be calling on Secretary Shinseki as well -- the head of the VA -- to really look at local VA hospitals and, you know, provide a safe patient area for women and men who are survivors of sexual trauma. I mean, this is not an isolated case. There is so much re-triggering of trauma among sexual trauma survivors at VA hospitals. The staff is not trained. Even medical professional themselves are re-triggering post-traumatic stress and depression in their patients by being callous.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Jimmy in Raleigh, N.C. And I do want to reach out to Ann and say I surely hope you've gotten some help. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMMYThank you, ma'am. I'm a retired Navy lieutenant commander, 22 years, recently retired. I did the first path of my career as an enlisted man, and I want to make sure that -- well, first of all, let me say that anyone who has gone through some sort of sexual assault or anything like that, I -- my heart goes out to them. There's -- you know, there's nothing -- there's absolutely nothing worse. And I don't want you to think that I am lessening that at all. However, I do want the listeners to know that it's not some big misogynistic party that's going on out there. It happens. I think it's a question of leadership. I've always been on the side of the ladies in my command.
JIMMYThey've always trusted me because I've always been the one standing up for them. And I also wanted to ask what about things like the Article 15. You can't be made to accept Article 15. You can always take that to what we call captain's -- or you can always take that to court-martial rather. You don't have to accept what we call a captain's mast or Article 15. And that's one thing, and the second thing is, if that doesn't go like you want it to, don't we always have redress of wrong? And I'll take my -- I'll take the comments off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks. Susan.
BURKEI think the point about leadership is correct. And, if we look at the recent media reports, it's very clear that the military tolerates within its ranks leadership that is openly misogynistic. And I've heard of the naval commander with these raunchy videos. It was known about for years, and absolutely nothing was done until, finally, the media picked it up. The other issue in terms of the redress and the Article 15, the reality is that the people that are coming forward are told that they have no redress.
BURKEThey are told that they have to abide by gag orders, that they are not free to speak of it to anyone, that they don't have any rights and that they merely need to accept the situation. So these people are being advised by their superiors that they essentially have checked their constitutional rights at the door when they joined the military.
REHMSusan Burke. She is plaintiffs' lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Anu Bhagwati, how is rape and sexual assault different in the military than it is in the general public?
BHAGWATIWell, I think, you know, we need to understand that military culture is completely different than the civilian world. As a service member, you can't quit your job if you're attacked, harassed or raped. You can't transfer to another community. You are stuck with your perpetrator and with the chain of command you have. There's very limited redress, which requires, you know, you to take a giant leap of faith and really risk putting your career at an end by stepping forward. You know, you're dealing with a system that thrives on power, on rank structure and intimidation. It's very unsafe to step forward unless you are guaranteed protection. And, right now, there is no guarantee to your protection or that you'll ever get justice for the crime.
REHMRebekah, tell us how you're doing psychologically.
HAVRILLAIt's challenging. You think that you are ready to face things like this, and then it can knock you on your read end, so to speak. And when I was dealing with this, when I went in and actually started my official investigation, it was extremely traumatic. It was extremely -- there are so many retriggering events. And even when you think that you have all of your stuff together and that you're prepared, it wears on you. It wears on you all the time. It's exhausting. But we're doing this for a reason, and that reason is a lot of the driving force that gives us the reason to continue.
REHMAnd, Mary, how about you?
GALLAGHERWell, it's been, you know, obviously very difficult. There are good days and bad days. But, mostly at this point, I'm just trying to -- I'm in the process of being separated and -- from the Air Force. And it's just, you know, you feel like you're stuck right now because I don't, you know, I'm not -- I'm out, but I'm not in the military. And there's no seems to be going forward. So that's kind of where I'm at, at this point.
REHMSusan, what is the lawsuit asking?
BURKEThe lawsuit is asking that these survivors have their day in court before a jury of Americans, and that those Americans are asked to rule on whether or not Secretary Gates and former Secretary Rumsfeld violated their constitutional rights.
REHMAnd what would be the outcome?
BURKEIf there's a finding that their rights were violated, they would receive money damages to compensate for those violations.
REHMAnd what kind of money are you asking for?
BURKEDiane, at this point we're actually not even thinking about this. There are some significant legal hurdles that we need to overcome, and we need to make sure that we find a right of redress for these survivors. So the trial, if it happens, will obviously begin to develop individual assessments of the amount that each of the different survivors has suffered. But it's a bit premature for that.
REHMIs there a statute of limitations?
BURKEWell, we are arguing in the lawsuit that these are continuing violations, that they have not stopped.
REHMAll right. And let's go to Hans in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. You're on the air.
HANSYes. Hello, can you hear me?
REHMYes, I certainly can.
HANSOkay. What I'm trying to put on the table is women and the army, they need to understand men do have substantially more testosterone than women. And the make-up of men is to have sex much more than women. Women need to be enticed and charmed and, you know -- most of the time. But I don't think it's -- if you want to reduce those issues, you maybe would have to reduce the testosterone level on men joining the army.
BURKEThat's ridiculous. People -- most men are not rapists. The statistics show that 95 percent of rapes are committed by repeat perpetrators, so I find the caller's remarks terribly offensive and untrue.
BHAGWATII think they're offensive -- those comments are offensive to men, quite frankly. What we're dealing with right now is a handful -- not a majority -- but a handful of sexual predators, who are men, who continue to offend again and again. They are serial offenders. They target their victims -- both men and women -- and continue to offend until they're discharged and they prey upon people in the civilian community. Not all men are sexual predators. It's extremely offensive to suggest that.
REHMSusan Burke, since you brought this case, have other people come forward?
BURKEYes. Even before the filing, we were having a flood of contacts because the word had gone out in the advocacy community that we were preparing a lawsuit. Since the filing, our officers have received a truly overwhelming amount of phone calls and e-mails. And I would just encourage those of you who have contacted me to, please, be patient. We're trying to work through and get back to all of you. But this is not an isolated incidence with just the survivors who have been named already.
REHMHave you, before this morning, heard from Kaye Whitley or anyone else at the Pentagon?
BURKENo one from the Pentagon has contacted us directly yet, no.
REHMSo Kaye Whitley was the first time you have heard from anyone?
BURKEThat's correct. We know -- from the media coverage, we know that there have been comments made by them, but this was the first communication.
REHMWhat kind of comment would you hope to have?
BURKEWell, what I would hope is just to stand up and say, we've done this wrong, and we're going to begin to do it right. I think, most obviously, when you think about the military solving a serious and important problem for military readiness, who should be put in charge of that? It normally is not a civilian who has -- you know, may have good intentions but has no military rank has no clout, no power. There needs to be someone of very high rank placed in charge of solving this problem.
REHMSusan Burke. She is the plaintiffs' lead lawyer in the lawsuit against the Pentagon, Rebekah Havrilla, Mary Gallagher -- two of the plaintiffs -- and Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, a Marine Corps veteran, thank you all so much for joining me. Good luck. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
An estimated 11 million Americans could see their disability benefits slashed next year if Congress fails to take action. The White House and Republican lawmakers have opposing solutions. Social Security's disability fund and how to keep the program solvent.
There's a renewed push for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., one supporters say can address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.
The Centers for Disease Control reported the number of Americans who died from heroin overdoses quadrupled in the decade ending in 2013. We look at what's behind the nation's surge in heroin addiction and what some communities are doing to fight back.