This week, MMAA joined with 19 other organizations in filing a “friend of the court” brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Jane Doe v. United States. In the brief, the 20 organizations urged the high court to take up the case and fix a decades-old, judicially-created doctrine that prevents service members — unlike their civilian counterparts — from seeking damages from the federal government for harm caused by government actors. Under this doctrine, military survivors of sexual violence like Jane Doe, and other service members, have virtually no judicial recourse when their assailants are other service members.

Fundamentally at issue in the case is the critically important need for the Supreme Court to overturn the doctrine created 70 years ago in the case of Feres v. United States. “This petition presents an all-too-familiar circumstance: a federal court (here, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit) found itself bound by an incorrect and unjust legal doctrine, which required the court to slam the courthouse doors, yet again, to a service member who was raped—this time on a college campus [one of the service academies],” write the organizations in the brief.

“Sexual violence in the military is rampant, and this Court’s decision in Feres perpetuates it,” continue the organizations. “Unlike their civilian counterparts, service-member survivors of sexual violence have virtually no judicial recourse.”

The statistics of sexual violence in the military are truly startling:

  • One-fourth of active duty women reported that they were sexually harassed in 2018
  • 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped in 2018
  • At least 62% of military sexual assaults are committed by a service member perpetrator on a service-member victim
  • Sexual-minority service members suffer harassment and assault at even higher numbers

The brief argues that even these startling numbers do not tell the whole story because of tragic underreporting due to “a well-known fear of retaliation for reporting military sexual harassment and assault.” 

  • Approximately 21% of female service members who reported a sexual assault were subjected to conduct that met the legal criteria for the kind of retaliatory behavior prohibited by military law
  • A third of victims separate from the military after reporting abuse
  • Of 82 retaliation offenses investigated in FY 2019, most involved reprisal—actions that negatively affect professional opportunities— and ostracism

MMAA and the organizations joining the brief believe it is crucially important for the Supreme Court to take up the case, overturn the Feres doctrine, and ensure military survivors of sexual assault and other violence have appropriate access to legal recourse. 

Read the entire brief here.

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