For military members and veterans, suing the Department of Defense is practically an impossibility thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 1950.
Don't tell that to Susan Burke, Attorney-at-Law and military brat. Ms. Burke has filed not one case against the Department of Defense but five, all dealing with sexual assault of our military service members. In Cioca v Rumsfeld, the judge determined that the "unique disciplinary structure of the military establishment" is a "special factor" that made it impossible to for the case to go further... basically, even though the allegations were egregious, it didn't matter. The military polices it's own; under those circumstances, rape is an occupational hazard of military service.
Ms. Burke was not content to accept that verdict and has since filed other cases, including her most recent one last week in which she sues Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other top DoD officials for "failing to prosecute and properly investigate claims of sexual assault."
The irony is that while being sued, Secretary Panetta is beginning to take steps to change the current acceptance of "legitimate" rape in military circles. He and some other officers in high leadership positions seem to understand that Zero Tolerance only meant Zero Tolerance when women could prove that they were pristine examples of virtuousness and that the men committing the rapes had left so much evidence of their crime that it would have been criminal to ignore the case.
What started to change these men's minds? (yes, they are still almost always men making these decisions.) Could it be The Invisible War? I know that copies of the film have been making the rounds in military circles but no one is going on the record as to any impact the film may have had on the most recent responses to MST or to next steps in fixing the broken system. However, a few days ago, Secretary Panetta directed his service chiefs to:
-- Develop and implement standardized core competencies and learning objectives applicable to pre-command and senior enlisted leader sexual assault prevention and response training;If you've been reading my blogs about The Invisible War and Military Sexual Trauma, you'll take special note that Secretary Panetta is focusing on leadership in his list of expectations. The film calls stark attention to the role of command in the failure to prosecute these crimes. In every blog I have written about the topic, I always tie the issue to better education of our military leaders - in our society, it is still acceptable to believe that women "ask for it" and without conversations at every level of training, our commanders cannot understand that this framing of rape is wrong.
-- Develop and implement standardized methods for objectively assessing the effectiveness of pre-command and senior enlisted leader sexual assault prevention and response training;
-- Provide a dedicated block of interactive instruction for commanders and senior enlisted leaders that allows for sufficient time to achieve learning objectives;
-- Provide program information and guidance for commanders in a quick-reference "Commander's Guide”;
-- Assess commanders' and senior enlisted leaders' understanding and mastery of key sexual assault prevention and response concepts and skills; and
-- Develop and implement commander and senior enlisted leader refresher training to sustain skills and knowledge.
Secretary Panetta stops short of offering any specific guidance for training, allowing each leader to chose what they think might be right for each service. I'm hoping that at the end of the day, he or his staffers are handing out copies of The Invisible War and recommending that it be included in pre-command and senior enlisted leader training.
If you would like to see Secretary Panetta take the next step and require that The Invisible War become mandatory viewing for officer training, please sign this NEW petition from The Invisible War:
The brave men and women of our Armed Forces put their lives on the line to keep our country safe. The Department of Defense and military leaders arm our troops with the most advanced weapons, knowledge, and training when it comes to combat. They must also provide them with the same level of support and training when it comes to fighting sexual assault within its ranks.Help us reach 10,000 signatures by Veterans Day, to show that we stand with all the members of our Armed Services, including survivors of military sexual assault.
The American military must hold itself to a higher standard.
Stand with us and ask the Department of Defense to mandate that The Invisible War become a required part of each Service’s officer accession training and officer developmental education programs.
By equipping our troops with real, firsthand knowledge on the severity of this issue, and the skills necessary to prevent sexual assault, we can help change the military’s “Zero Tolerance” policy from rhetoric to reality.