4th Circuit Shuts Down Sexual Assault Complaint Against Rumsfeld and Gates

4th Circuit Shuts Down Sexual Assault Complaint Against Rumsfeld and Gates

The 2011 landmark lawsuit alleging that former defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates fostered a rapist-friendly, victim-hostile military culture was once again shut down last week.

Initiated in February 2011 by 28 plaintiffs – service members and veterans who had allegedly been victims of sexual assault – the class action suit cited Rumsfeld's and Gates' failure to prevent sexual assault within the ranks. Plaintiffs argued that such actions amounted to a violation of their constitutional rights, specifically citing a "boys will be boys" indifference toward female service members reporting assault – an apathy that often escalated to retaliation, plaintiffs assert.

Plaintiffs further stated that their collective objective was not necessarily one concerned with a courtroom victory or even monetary awards, but rather one rooted in awareness, stressing their motives in filing the complaint were geared toward reforming the military's attitude toward sexual assault starting "from the top down". Their ultimate goal: for sexual trauma to no longer be filed under "minor personnel issues" but rather to be treated as an internal threat to the military, alleging that it undermines a unit's cohesion – a critical element of the unit's success. When the case was brought before the U.S. District Court in 2011, however, Judge Liam O'Grady dismissed it, reasoning that it is not the federal judiciary's place to intervene in disciplinary-related military matters.

In last week's unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the case, while acknowledging the severity of the allegations and emphasizing it was not endorsing the conduct as described in the complaint. And while the appeals court is the first of the federal judiciary to rule on the issue, the panel noted that its decision is consistent with a Washington, D.C. federal judge's February ruling on a nearly identical lawsuit filed against former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Categories: Sexual Assault
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