Volumes of “Court-Martial Reports” line the bookshelf located in the courtroom.

Photo credit Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Military sexual assault victims rarely advised about civilian court

June 11, 2018 - 2:06 pm

If you were sexually assaulted while you were in the military, chances are you were never told you could seek justice in a civilian court.  That's the latest charge from an advocacy group who's studied military sexual assault records over the past several years.

The report was first published by USA Today.

Thousands of sexual assault victims have proceeded in military courts as opposed to civilian courts, where the experience prosecuting assault cases is superior, according to Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor of the Air Force and current president of Protect Our Defenders.

A 2015 law requires the military to counsel victims that they have the opportunity to litigate in either a military or civilian court. Christensen's organization sued for records and found that the Army is the only branch which had kept counseling records, but only since 2017. A Pentagon spokeswoman maintains the DoD is properly following the law, has incorporated it into their training manuals, yet is not required to keep records of its compliance.

“Literally every survivor whose case came out has said they haven’t been told,” Christensen told USA Today. “Some of them were told that civilians won’t take it seriously, that they’re too busy. Some were talked out of it. Thousands have not been told or have been poorly advised.”

Sexual assault victims in the military can decide to prosecute their case in a military court, or in a civilian court.  To litigate in a civilian court, the victim simply must contact local law enforcement authorities. 

For information on what to do if you are either a veteran or active member who was assaulted in the military, read our Find Help - Sexual Assault resources page. 

Contact us about this article or share your story at gethelp@connectingvets.com.