Sgt. Rebecca Havrilla, the lone female member of a bomb squad in eastern Afghanistan, was allegedly raped days before she was supposed to go back to the United States. "The rape," she said, "was the 'ironic icing on the cake.'"
What started in basic training in January of 2004 with sexual jokes, innuendoes and simulated sexual play escalated to groping, slapping, harassment and ultimately ended with a rape before she left Afghanistan in September 2009, she said.
Havrilla's story gets worse before it gets better: she ran into her alleged rapist at a shop on Fort Leonard Wood; says she was told by a military chaplain that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped"; and says a friend found pictures of the attack on a pornography website.
Havrilla finally reported her case only to have it dismissed by her military commanders. On Wednesday, however, Havrilla is testifying in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel and share her story.
Havrilla's story is one of many and the statistics are grim: an estimated 19,000 service members experience sexual assault a year, according to the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). Eighty percent of military sexual assaults have gone unreported. In 2011, a mere 3,192 cases were reported but only 1,516 of those cases were considered actionable.
Prosecution rates are even lower: a reported 8 percent of cases actually went to trial, and of those, many accused sex offenders walked free, some even returning to the military. The Department of Defense also does not maintain a military sex offender registry.
Critics attribute these statistics to the military legal system, also referred to as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In this system, sexual assault reporting and prosecution is not subject to civilian law but to an internal justice system. "Command discretion," a key element of the military legal system, leaves adjudication in the hands of military commanders, leaving open the potential for serious conflicts of interest.
"Even if you felt uncomfortable about something, you learned pretty quickly not to say anything, or to express any type of indignation or you'd be targeted for more," Havrilla told CBS News of the widespread fear of retaliation for reporting a sexual assault.
The system was arguably necessary in the old days, when troops were isolated and you needed a certain hierarchy and level of power right there on the ground, explained attorney, Susan Burke. Burke's firm based out of Washington D.C. specializes in claims arising from rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.
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