Women sue former US defence secy over rape during training

Two women have filed lawsuits against a former secretary of defence and other top officials, alleging they were raped while studying at two of America’s elite service academies, and that the Pentagon and the colleges did nothing to prevent it. In the case, brought at federal court in New York, the former female cadets who attended West Point, the US army college and its naval counterpart at Annapolis claim their careers were ruined by the attacks. They are seeking not only sweeping reforms, but unspecified financial damages.

Named as defendants are Robert Gates, secretary of defence between 2006 and 2011, and the current secretaries of the army and navy, as well as the former superintendents of both academies. They are accused of being “personally responsible” for “systemically and repeatedly” ignoring “rampant sexual harassment”. The US military establishment, says the lawsuit, has a “high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and zero tolerance for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.”

On Monday West Point and Annapolis insisted they had strong procedures in place to deal with rape and sexual harassment. The Pentagon would not directly address the alleged incidents, but Leon Panetta, Gate’s successor at the Pentagon, last week ordered new steps to curb thousands of sexual assault cases in the military. The women claim that while they were assured the cases were being followed up, nothing was done, and the alleged perpetrators were unpunished.

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