WASHINGTON- Survivors of sexual assault in the military say they are no longer waiting for their commanders or Congress to fully address the issue.
Several women with years of service to the country have joined forces to file a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.
Jennifer Smith says she was sexually assaulted while serving in Iraq. She says her attacker was not punished and that she was harassed after reporting it to her commander.
“You have to go to the root of the problem, and the root of the problem are the commanders,” said Smith.
Smith and three other military women have filed suit saying: “The Department repeatedly fails to terminate sexual harassers from the military, and instead lets those biased and hostile persons control military judicial proceedings.”
“We can’t expect the people who are so enmeshed in that culture to police themselves,” said lawyer Susan Burke.
Smith also filed a complaint about sexually hostile songs printed in unofficial Air Force songbooks.
“I never really realized what effect they had on me until something bad happened to me, and I realized I couldn’t go to the people I needed to go to because I viewed them as pigs,” said Smith.
The Pentagon says there were 7,000 fewer sexual assaults last year than in 2012 and more women and men are coming forward, but also says more must be done.
“It is very disheartening to go through something like this and to get no justice, but you keep hoping,” said Carmelita Swain.
Hope for justice for her and others after years of military service.
Plaintiffs are also supporting attempts on Capitol Hill to remove commanders completely from sexual assault cases and place that authority in the hands of independent prosecutors.