The nation, it seems, has suddenly woken up to the problem of military sexual assaults against women. Today, on its front page, the New York Times ran part two of a series about the disproportionate trauma faced by female military vets, often exasperated by sexual assaults that occured while in the military. Departing Pentagon chief Leon E. Panetta estimated such assaults could number 19,000 a year.
Today, the Times wrote about the “common pathway to homelessness for women - [that is,] military sexual trauma, or M.S.T., from assaults or harassment during their service, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.” And nothing illustrated this crisis better than the Oscar-nominated, award-winning documentary, The Invisible War. If you haven’t see this film, there are numerous ways to download, watch or screen this extraordinary film today. And then take action here.
But there is one more thing we must do. We must change the law, so that sexual assault survivors are no longer prohibited from holding the government legally accountable for its role is allowing this crisis to continue.
Rachel Natelson, Legal Director of Service Women’s Action Network, has a piece in Time magazine called "The Unfairness of the Feres Doctrine," a doctrine that we’ve covered often at ThePopTort. Basically, the “Feres Doctrine” is a 60-year-old policy that bars U.S. military personnel from suing the government for personal injuries suffered while they are in the armed forces. Even, it turns out, when an epidemic of sexual assaults exists. Writes Nelson:
[F]or Ariana Klay, and other subjects of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War, however, the wounds of battle are unlikely to fade with the closing credits.
In dismissing Klay v Panetta, a civil lawsuit that Klay brought against the Pentagon for failing to protect her and other service members from sexual violence, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has perpetuated a baffling tradition of depriving military personnel of basic civil rights.
Like countless others injured due to the negligence or misconduct of their brothers-in-arms, Klay and her co-plaintiffs have been denied a remedy for the wrongs they suffered, simply because they were harmed during their time in uniform.
Congress can fix this. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), Congress already fixed a related problem by prohibiting military contractors from covering sexual assaults in its forced arbitration clauses.
They can do this.