More Victims Want To Join Lawsuit Alleging Pentagon Ignored Sexual Harassment

February 25, 2011 4:15 a.m.

Hundreds of people have contacted the law firm and military advocacy group associated with a federal lawsuit which accuses the Pentagon of not doing enough to prevent the rape and sexual harassment of members of the Armed Services.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook for the last week,” Anuradha Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), told TPM in an interview this week. “I feel like it’s the first time literally in military history where survivors have had a strong sense of institutional support — and by institutional I mean a legitimate law firm and advocacy organization supporting the cause.”Many of those who have reached out to SWAN and the law firm of civil litigator Susan Burke — including survivors, family members of victims and witnesses of rape or sexual harassment — have expressed interest in joining the suit.

Bhagwati said that the law firm was preparing a second round of plaintiffs. “I don’t know how many rounds they’ll end up doing. I think it’s part of a long term strategy to keep media attention alive, to keep this in the public, the limelight.”

Bhagwati said they were getting calls from current and former of all ages — from those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to much older veterans — “coming out of the woodwork” about their experiences with rape or sexual harassment in the military.

The suit filed last week chronicles several allegations of sexual assaults that military leadership allegedly dismissed or tried to cover up both in the U.S. and abroad.

“Unfortunately, the military has been dealing with this issue for decades. Survivors have come and gone, most of them are still sort of languishing in their betrayal and PTSD,” Bhagwati said.

She said there is no indication that rape is on the rise, but said that reporting mechanisms are better known within the military.

One of the problems with how the military handles rape and sexual harassment is that it focuses on victims services after the fact and not active prevention or attempts to change the culture, said Bhagwati.

But Bhagwati says the suit and the attention it has brought to the issue are a step in the right direction.

“This last week is more than survivors could have ever dreamed of,” Bhagwati said. “Justice is a funny thing.”

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