Military Accused of Nursing Culture of Rape & Retaliation


     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Army and Air Force consistently fail to prosecute and incarcerate sexual predators, 19 men and women in uniform claim in federal court.
     Before describing the alleged attacks on each of the enlistees, the 50-page complaint points out that sex scandals are nothing new for the Army and Air Force: the Tailhook scandal in 1991, at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996, the Air Force Academy in 2003, and an ongoing disgrace at Lackland Air Force Base where several instructors sexually assaulted enlisted recruits.
     The fourteen women and five men say that the toxic culture of the military allows "open and blatant sexual harassment to occur on a daily basis," and retaliates against its opponents. The abuse allegedly often begins at the recruiting office.
     Daniele Hoffman says she was just 17 and had not yet even entered active duty when she faced sexually harassment from an Army recruiter. The harassment allegedly escalated into inappropriate touching and sexual advances, culminating in an attempted rape during a drill weekend. Hoffman says she faced retaliation each time she was posted to a new unit. She attempted suicide three times and volunteered to deployment in Iraq "hoping she would die an honorable death overseas," according to the complaint.
     Kole and Kevin Welsh say they were assaulted by an HIV-positive staff sergeant based at Ft. Lewis, Wash., infecting them both the virus that causes AIDS. They later learned that the sergeant "had intentionally infected a number of other service members but had continued to be transferred from base to base instead of being prosecuted," according to the complaint.
     Amanda Shaw says a command sergeant used a military van to kidnap, drug and rape her shortly after she graduated from basic training. Though she reported the incident to military police, investigators allegedly told her there was no record of her report once she discovered the identity of her rapist. They also said that a commanding officer "would never risk his career for a private," Shaw claims. After she found an attorney and threatened to make her case public, the Army allegedly gave Shaw a general under-honorable discharge for failure to adapt.
     Sherry Shour met her attacker while attending the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., according to the complaint. He allegedly attacked her while they hiked in the woods, eventually masturbating on top of her. When Shour reported the attack, she learned the man had raped two other women at the base, according to the complaint. Shour says the military transferred her to another duty station after she testified against her attacker.
     Thomas Shockley says that that an officer in his unit beat him and sexually assaulted him after a night of drinking. Instead of punishing the attacker, the Air Force charged Shockley with driving under the influence and assaulting a commissioned officer, according to the complaint. Though the charges were allegedly dropped, Shockley says Air Force commanders retaliated against him by giving him low performance scores that keep him from advancing to a higher rank.
     Lola Miles says she told a supervisor that a colleague had repeatedly grabbed her genital area and buttocks, but the male colleague was told simply to "keep his hands to himself," according to the complaint. Subsequent attempts to go up the command chain with her claims allegedly resulted in retaliation and three "lost" complaints.
     A soldier raped Tamika Lane shortly after basic training, while she was stationed at Ft. Lewis, according to the complaint. Though five other female soldiers reported sexual misconduct against Lane's attacker, the Army never adjudicated the matter or discharged the solider, she says. Eight years later, while posted to the prestigious Joint Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg, a Marine allegedly raped Lane.
     Lane says the Army retaliated against her by trying to revoke her Bronze Star and downgrading her to noncommissioned officer status. Meanwhile, the military allegedly would have allowed her attacker to take a plea deal charging him with adultery, conduct unbecoming and falsifying documents.
     After Lane demanded a court-martial, she says her supervisor smeared her by saying "that she had made up the rape so she would not have to work as hard." The court-martial acquitted Lane's attacker, finding him guilty of adultery and handing him a letter of reprimand, a "slap on the wrist," Lane says in the complaint.
     Annarose Schaad says she experienced "multiple sexual assaults" while serving in the Air Force, adding that she opted not to report them because "she had observed the retaliation that accompanied reporting." She retired earlier this year after finally reporting a 2011 attack and subsequently enduring social ostracism and no legal help from the military, according to the complaint.
     Kelly Smith says Army Criminal Investigation Command interrogated for eight hours after she grudgingly reported that she had been raped while she was stationed at Ft. Lewis. She says CID investigators accused her of lying until a witness came forward and reported hearing Smith's screams during the attack. Though investigators eventually caught Smith's rapist and the man signed a confession, he was allegedly never court-martialed for his crime. Instead, he retired "with full benefits, pension and honors," the complaint states.
     Anna Moore says she filed a complaint after a fellow soldier groped her and tried to attack. Her commander told her to forget about it and that the incident never happened. "Then the first sergeant shredded Ms. Moore's report in front of her and told her to get out of his office," Moore says.
     Kimberley Davis says had fallen asleep at the birthday party of her chief's wife when the chief raped her. He allegedly became her direct supervisor several years later, and Davis says he singled her out and made things difficult for her. He also allowed Davis' co-workers to refer to women in the unit as "cunts" and "bitches" during sexual assault briefings, according to the complaint. Davis says she eventually made a report, but learned from the military's Sexual Assault Response Coordination office months later that her base command never filed the report.
     Sascha Garner allegedly discovered that she had been raped while unconscious after a night of drinking during her tour in Afghanistan. She says she was later banned from common areas and forced her to live one tent away from her attacker. When her contract ended in 2010, commanders forced her to stay deployed with her rapist because "the investigatory paperwork had not been processed," the complaint states.
     Lisa Ethridge became involved with another solider who "beat her so severely that she was hospitalized for face and skull fractures," the complaint states. This beating occurred in front of two military personnel, both of whom stood by without interfering," Ethridge says.
     The solider allegedly tied Ethridge to a tree and raped her. Another time, he entered her house covered in camouflage paint, turned off the lights and raped her at knife point while her children were in the home, according to the complaint. Ethridge says he stalked her at work and retained parental rights to the child she had after one attack resulted in pregnancy. The rapist was finally discharged after a sixth woman came forward to report a sexual or physical assault, according to the complaint.
     Michelle Kemeny's supervisor allegedly told her to "think about her career" after a colleague sexually assaulted her after a night of drinking while stationed in Kurdistan. She says two lawyers for the Navy's Judge Advocate General also advised her not to report the incident. A suicide attempt allegedly ended Kemeny's military career, though the Air Force denied a medical discharge recommendation and instead discharged her honorably - but depriving her of future mental health benefits to deal with her attack.
     After Theodore Skovranek's Army roommate sexually assaulted him, he endured insults from fellow soldiers and his drill sergeant, who suggested Skovranek was gay, according to the complaint. The Army allegedly discharged Skovranek for suicidal ideations, but failed to act on the incident report the man filed.
     Tarina Addison says the Army briefly detained a rapist she reported. His punishment included more drills - next to Addison - and a delay in his advancement to active duty status, according to the complaint. Addison says the Army delayed giving her a transfer, so she stopped reporting for duty. The Army allegedly retaliated by demoting Addison from specialist to private first class.
     Lynette Cubano claims a fellow soldier raped her while she was in Germany on medical leave. After the Army sent her back to the United States, she allegedly attempted suicide before finally reporting the rape to CID. She says investigators "accused her of lying and wasting their time."
     Air Force Capt. Richard Rovet says he was drugged and sexually assaulted by service members in his nursing course. Rovet "remembers being held back by [a] female who was laughing while the male service member forcibly pushed his penis in his face," according to the complaint. "As he fought to remain conscious, Rovet ran to the door and was dragged back one final time. The last thing he remembers was being forcibly thrown on the bed and having his shoes and pants forcibly removed."
     After Rovet filed a report at a friend's urging, investigators termed it an "alcohol-related incident" and ordered Rovet to attend an intensive alcohol abuse evaluation. The Air Force then allegedly retaliated against Rovet by twice passing him over for promotion to major, while handing the title to one of his attackers.
     Each plaintiff blames the military's multimillion dollar advertising campaign for lulling "young recruits into believing that the Army and the Air Force are organizations operating with integrity and professionalism."
     "Recruits are led to believe that they will be by their peers and superiors, and that their superiors will act in a professional manner," according to the complaint.
     "Defendants authorized such advertising despite knowing that the services were woefully deficient in prosecuting and incarcerating rapists, and that these failures were subjecting service members to rape and sexual assault at far greater rates than found in the civilian world."
     A mere 20 percent of service members who experience unwanted sexual contact report the matter to military authorities because of the military's "culture of sexual harassment and blatant retaliation against those who reported rape and sexual assault," the plaintiffs say.
     While the military claims a zero-tolerance policy and touts systematic reforms regarding rape and sexual assault, "this rhetoric has failed to change the misogynistic culture of the Army and has not resulted in any meaningful reform or reduction in sexual assaults," according to the complaint.
     The complaint names as defendants: Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld; Army Secretary John McHugh; and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. They seek punitive damages for violation of their rights to due process, equal protection and free speech.
     Susan Burke of Burke PLLC in Washington, D.C., and D. Inder Comar of the San Francisco firm Comar Law represent the plaintiffs.