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Sexual Assault Continues to Violate the Human Rights of U.S. Service Members

Cornell Global Gender Justice Clinic brings second case on behalf of survivors of military sexual assault to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ithaca, New York - On January 18, 2015, the Cornell Global Gender Justice Clinic filed a petition against the United States before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of seven women who were sexually assaulted, harassed or raped while serving in the U.S. military. The petitioners faced retaliation from their Chain of Command for reporting the incidents, and none received sufficient access to judicial remedies.

The petitioners are asking that this case be joined with an earlier petition submitted by the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic in January 2014 on behalf of twenty other survivors of military sexual assault. These cases are the first ever brought by survivors of sexual violence against the United States before an international human rights tribunal.

Sexual violence and rape in the military is endemic. According to the Department of Defense's most recent study, 6.1 percent of military women experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact in the last year alone. When the petitioners reported being assaulted they were accused of lying and forced to endure retaliation and harassment by their fellow service members. In many instances, the petitioners' claims were not investigated, or when investigated, the perpetrators received minimal or no punishment. In the majority of instances, reporting the crimes led to the termination of petitioners' military careers.

The petitioners were part of a group that sued recent U.S. Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of the Navy, and Commandants of the Marine Corps in 2012. Their case was summarily dismissed in July 2014 because the U.S. military is immune from civil suit in U.S. federal court.

This petition asks the IACHR, an independent human rights body of the Organization of American States, to conduct a full investigation into the human rights violations, grant the petitioners compensation, and recommend that the U.S. government take all necessary measures to prevent and punish sexual violence in the military.

Last year, Congress adopted new legislation that improves the way the military justice system handles sexual assault within its ranks. However, the law keeps authority to prosecute these cases in the hands of commanders, whose close working relationships with the accused and need to ensure the military success of their mission compromises their ability to handle cases impartially and afford redress to sexual violence survivors.

"While Congress and the Department of Defense have taken important steps to reform the military's response to sexual violence, these measures do not go far enough," said Professor Liz Brundige, who directs the Global Gender Justice Clinic. "The United States has a responsibility to fix the systemic problems that led to the devastating human rights abuses experienced by the petitioners. This includes removing decision-making powers from the chain of command and opening the doors of the federal courts to service members whose rights are violated by the military."

For media interviews, please contact Robin Wagge at (212) 843-8006, or rwagge@rubenstein.com.

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The petition is available here.