UN Committee to Review Cornell Law Report on Sexual Violence in the U.S. Military
Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and Global Gender Justice Clinic Submit Report to the U.N. Committee against Torture on U.S. Military Sexual AssaultFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ithaca, New York - The United States' failure to respond adequately to sexual violence in the U.S. military violates service members' right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, says a new report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture by Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and Global Gender Justice Clinic, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality Now, the Military Rape Crisis Center, and the Service Women's Action Network. The report was submitted in preparation for the Committee's review of the United States' compliance with the Convention Against Torture, which will take place in Geneva from November 11-13.
Sexual violence and rape in the United States military is perpetrated at alarming rates, with one in three service women experiencing sexual assault. Yet, "the U.S. military justice system systematically fails to impartially and meaningfully investigate, prosecute, and punish acts of sexual violence, and bars survivors from seeking redress in federal courts when the military violates their rights," the report argues.
Under the current military justice system, an accused person's commander has authority to make key decisions about responding to sexual violence claims. According to the report, commanders' close working relationships with the accused, interest in retaining experienced service members, and need to ensure the military success of their mission compromises their ability to handle cases impartially and afford redress to sexual violence survivors. The military justice system prosecutes only 8% of those alleged to have engaged in rape or sexual assault, as compared to the civilian system, which prosecutes 40% of those alleged to be such perpetrators.
Stephanie Schroeder, a survivor of military sexual assault whose story is described in the report, explained that when she reported the sexual abuse she experienced, "I was forced to work alongside my attackers for over a year while my unit turned their back on me. My attackers would make me stand in front of the formation so that they could sexually degrade me, and my commander called me a 'troublemaker' and punished me every chance he got."
After she was discharged from the military for health conditions arising from the abuse she experienced, Schroeder and other military sexual assault survivors sued the U.S. government for violating their rights. A U.S. appeals court dismissed the case on the ground that the Supreme Court has held that courts may not provide a remedy to individuals whose injuries arise out of activities incident to military service.
"By closing its courthouse doors to survivors of military sexual assault, the United States has effectively barred its servicewomen and men from the remedies afforded to sexual violence victims in the civilian sector," said Professor Liz Brundige, who directs the Avon Global Center and Global Gender Justice Clinic.
A delegation of Clinic students and Center staff will travel to Geneva in November to participate with Schroeder in the United States' review before the Committee Against Torture. Schroeder explained that she is taking part in this process in order to raise awareness and make a difference for other survivors of military sexual violence. "My assault was bad, but what ensued in the aftermath was sheer torture," she explained. "No one should have to endure the cruel punishment of retaliation."
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