Retaliation and sexual assault

When a sexual assault happens to a member of a unit or office, it can lead to a variety of emotions, feelings or opinions. It is important for command and peers to understand the consequences of how they interact and respond to a victim of a sexual assault. It is especially important that there is no retaliation against a victim of sexual assault. Within the Department of Defense, retaliation encompasses both professional and social retaliation, which is a chargeable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Professional retaliation is described by the DoD, as “taking or threatening to take an adverse personnel action or withholding or threatening to withhold a favorable personnel action, with respect to a member of the Armed Forces, because the member made a protected communication (e.g. filed a report of sexual assault).”

This can also include the punishment of victims for minor “collateral misconduct,” which only came to the attention of the command because the victim came forward to report a sexual assault. Fear of punishment for collateral misconduct remains a major obstacle for service member victims to come forward with a sexual assault report.

The DoD has also recognized that retaliation can take place outside the workplace in social settings which “includes social ostracism and such acts of maltreatment committed by peers of the victim or by other persons because the member made a protected communication.”

Human Rights Watch recently conducted a study into retaliation against U.S. military members who reported a sexual assault. In the survey, many of the victims felt that the aftermath and fall-out of the sexual assault, to include bullying and isolation from their peers, to damage to their careers, was worse than the assault itself.

In essence, these survivors of a sexual assault were being re-victimized by the commands and peers who should be supporting them, as “everyone is told from day one that the military is your family…If you are sexually assaulted it takes on an incestuous dynamic. It is that level of betrayal. Then it goes to your command—if the command handles it badly, that’s another level of betrayal. Every time the system fails, another layer of betrayal (Retaliation against Sexual Assault Survivors in the US Military, Human Rights Watch, May 2015, 7).”

This issue has not only been addressed by concerned outside agencies such as Human Rights Watch, but also by the DoD itself. On June 19, 2014, the secretary of the Army issued Army Directive 2014-20 (Prohibition of Retaliation Against Soldiers for Reporting a Criminal Offense). The directive states that “no Soldier may retaliate against a victim, an alleged victim or another member of the Armed Forces based on that individual’s report of a criminal offense.” The provisions of this directive are punitive, meaning that if there is retaliation, that person may be punished under Article 92 of the UCMJ.

Retaliation, either by peers or the command, socially or professionally, is not tolerated. Allegations of retaliation will be investigation by the appropriate Inspector General’s office and appropriate action will be taken against those violating the directive. Victims who report a sexual assault deserve the support and respect of their commands and peers, not ostracism and threats.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact your nearest law center. In Wiesbaden, the Legal Assistance Office is in the Welcome Center, Bldg. 1023W on Clay Kaserne or call mil: 537-0664; or civ: (0611) 134-537-0664. The office is open Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. On Thursdays the office is open from 1 to 4 p.m.