Sexual Assault in Military 'Jaw-Dropping,' Lawmaker Says
July 31, 2008
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A congresswoman said Thursday that
her "jaw dropped" when military doctors told her that
four in 10 women at a veterans hospital reported being
sexually assaulted while in the military.
A government report indicates that the numbers could be
Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, spoke before a House
panel investigating the way the military handles reports
of sexual assault.
She said she recently visited a Veterans Affairs
hospital in the Los Angeles area, where women told her
horror stories of being raped in the military.
"My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41 percent
of the female veterans seen there say they were victims
of sexual assault while serving in the military," said
Harman, who has long sought better protection of women
in the military.
"Twenty-nine percent say they were raped during their
military service. They spoke of their continued terror,
feelings of helplessness and downward spirals many of
their lives have taken since.
"We have an epidemic here," she said. "Women serving in
the U.S. military today are more likely to be raped by a
fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."
As of July 24, 100 women had died in Iraq, according to
In 2007, Harman said, only 181 out of 2,212 reports of
military sexual assaults, or 8 percent, were referred to
courts martial. By comparison, she said, 40 percent of
those arrested in the civilian world on such charges are
Defense statistics show that military commanders took
unspecified action, which can include anything from
punishment to dismissal, in an additional 419 cases.
But when it came time for the military to defend itself,
the panel was told that the Pentagon's top official on
sexual abuse, Dr. Kaye Whitley, was ordered not to show
up despite a subpoena.
"I don't know what you're trying to cover up here, but
we're not going to allow it," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-
California, said to the Defense official who relayed the
news of Whitley's no-show. "This is unacceptable."
Rep. John Tierney, the panel's chairman and a Democrat
from Massachusetts, angrily responded, "these actions by
the Defense Department are inexplicable."
"The Defense Department appears to be willfully and
blatantly advising Dr. Whitley not to comply with a duly
authorized congressional subpoena," Tierney said.
An Army official who did testify said the Army takes
allegations of sexual abuse extremely seriously.
"Even one sexual assault violates the very essence of
what it means to be a soldier, and it's a betrayal of
the Army's core values," Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle said.
The committee also heard from Mary Lauterbach, the
mother of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a 20-year-old
pregnant Marine who was killed in December, allegedly by
a fellow Marine.
Mary Lauterbach said her daughter filed a rape claim
with the military against Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean
seven months before he was accused of killing her.
"I believe that Maria would be alive today if the
Marines had provided a more effective system to protect
the victims of sexual assault," she said.
In the months after her daughter filed the rape claim,
she said, the military didn't seem to take her
seriously, and the onus was on "Maria to connect the
"The victim should not have the burden to generate
evidence for the command," Lauterbach told the
Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
"Maria is dead, but there will be many more victims in
the future, I promise you. I'm here to ask you to do
what you can to help change how the military treats
victims of crime and to ensure the victims receive the
support and protection they need and they deserve."
Another woman, Ingrid Torres, described being raped on a
U.S. base in Korea when she worked with the American Red
"I was raped while I slept," she said.
The man who assaulted her, she said, was a flight
director who was found guilty and dismissed from the Air
Fighting back tears, Torres added, "he still comes after
me in my dreams."
The Government Accountability Office released
preliminary results from an investigation into sexual
assaults in the military and the Coast Guard. The GAO
found that the "occurrences of sexual assault may be
exceeding the rates being reported."
"At the 14 installations where GAO administered its
survey, 103 service members indicated that they had been
sexually assaulted within the preceding 12 months. Of
these, 52 service members indicated that they did not
report the sexual assault," the GAO said.
The office found that the military and Coast Guard have
established policies to address sexual assault but that
the implementation of the programs is hampered by an
array of factors, including that "most, but not all,
commanders support the programs."
"Left unchecked, these challenges can discourage or
prevent some service members from using the programs
when needed," the GAO said.
Tierney said, "what's at stake here goes to the very
core of the values of the military and the nation
"When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line
to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should
fear is being attacked by one of our own.