October 2, 2012 — Nineteen current and former Air Force and Army service members on Friday filed a federal lawsuit against Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former defense secretaries alleging an ongoing failure to address sexual assaults in the military, the Daily Beast reports.
The suit -- the fifth of its kind filed by attorney Susan Burke, all of which are pending in district or circuit courts -- claims that top military officials were aware that the constitutional rights of men and women who reported sexual assault were being violated. The suit also argues that military leaders failed to prosecute and properly investigate claims of sexual assault.
"Each Defendant repeatedly cites a policy of 'zero tolerance' and systematic reform regarding rape and sexual assault," the lawsuit states, adding, "Yet 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" (Ellison, Daily Beast, 9/28).
Department of Defense spokesperson Cynthia Smith refused to discuss the latest lawsuit but noted that Panetta has ordered the department to take steps to reduce incidents of sexual assault in the military, including the creation of a special victims unit (AP/U-T San Diego, 9/28). Last week, Panetta issued new orders directing all military branches to review sexual assault training and response programs (Daily Beast, 9/28).
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