Connecticut Lawsuit Reveals Military Sex Assault Data

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Margaret Middleton
Margaret Middleton

'Victimized Three Times'

While the bills make their way through Congress, the legal action brought by the Yale clinic has helped raise awareness about the issue. Margaret Middleton, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center in West Haven, said veterans who are sexually assaulted in the military are "victimized three times."

"There's the direct assault they endure, then there is the military's inability to address the cultural problems that make reporting such crime difficult, and then the third betrayal is when the Veterans Affairs office refuses to provide benefits for injuries," she said.

As a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School and a supervising attorney in the school's veterans clinic, Middleton is involved in the lawsuits against the Defense Department and VA. The two federal lawsuits were filed in 2010, after the military rejected a public records request for sex crime statistics. At one point, the military said the records would cost $128 million to produce.

Back in 2010, then-U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz was assigned to preside over the case. In April 2013, after Kravitz's death, Judge Stefan R. Underhill approved the settlement between the plaintiffs and the Department of Veterans Affairs after the agency agreed to release information about claims for sexual assault.

The litigation invovling the Department of Defense remains pending; the plaintiffs want all investigative reports pertaining to sexual assault in the military. In the meantime, Middleton said she hopes the recent settlement will lead to expanded benefits for current military personnel and veterans who have emotional issues that occurred as a result of sexual assault. What needs to change, she said, is the burden of proof the VA requires before authorizing benefits.

"It's a particularly difficult burden," she said. Unlike combat-related post traumatic stress, the victim must show documentation of the sexual assault to get benefits. "That's like asking someone in battle to take notes while they are being fired upon," Middleton said.

Coast Guard Increase

Eugene R Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale, said the issue especially hits home in Connecticut, because the state's economy is somewhat reliant on the defense industry. "Connecticut is home to important military installations. I'm talking about Groton. I'm talking about the U.S. Coast Guard Academy," he said. "The state has a very proud history involvement with national security issues."

The Coast Guard Academy in New London has had its own controversies over sexual misconduct. Although there were no reported sexual assaults at the academy from 2007 to 2009, there were six reports of sexual offenses against students from 2010 to 2012.

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