• Give a Gift
  • Customer Service
  • Promotions
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Win
  • Games

July 23, 2013

Plan of Attack: Sexual Assault in the Military

Women in Congress go to battle over rampant sexual assault in the military.


Former Marine Lieutenant Elle Helmer claims in a lawsuit that she was raped by a superior, then met with retaliation for reporting the alleged crime.

Photo Credit: The Invisible

Special Offer

Picture this: You are raped by a colleague, then your boss gets to decide if the case moves forward — assuming you report the crime and risk your career. That's how it works in the military, and it's a system that a fiery team of women in Congress has vowed to change.

An estimated 26,000 people were sexually assaulted in the service last year, up from about 19,300 in 2010, according to a Pentagon survey. Yet only 3,374 cases were reported last year — and fewer than 10 percent of those went to trial.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says the system is in desperate need of a fix. "Victims feel they can't get justice," she says. "They fear retaliation." This spring, she and 27 bipartisan senators and representatives proposed a bill that would reform the military legal system by appointing trained prosecutors — not officers in the victim's chain of command — to decide whether serious crimes go to trial.

Military brass objected, claiming that the current system promotes "order and discipline." At press time, the future of Gillibrand's plan was in doubt, but she vowed to continue battling for justice in the military ranks.

Other women on the Hill have been in on the fight, too: Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have pushed to strip generals of power to overturn assault convictions. Two female war veterans in the House, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), also have spoken out for reform, as has Jackie Speier (D-CA), who has proposed three House bills aimed at curbing assault.

"Women have taken on this issue with passion,” Gillibrand says. "And they will drive us across the finish line." It won't be easy. Says Speier: "Dwight Eisenhower warned about going up against the military industrial complex. We need to stay very firm and very committed to this task."

Connect with Marie Claire:
daily giveaway
Go to the Beach

Go to the Beach

enter now
You Know You Want More
More From Inspirational Women
Somaly's Story: 'I Didn't Lie.'

"I didn't lie. I was not silent. I had so many lives to fix. For me, it's not about fighting with everyone. My priority was the girls. That's not silence."

post a comment

Special Offer
Link Your Marie Claire Account to Facebook

Marie Claire already has an account with this email address. Link your account to use Facebook to sign in to Marie Claire. To insure we protect your account, please fill in your password below.

Forgot Password?

Thanks for Joining

Your information has been saved and an account has been created for you giving you full access to everything marieclaire.com and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your username and/or password or complete your profile, click here.

Your accounts are now linked

You now have full access to everything Marie Claire and Hearst Digital Media Network have to offer. To change your settings or profile, click here.