Sexual Assault

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Sexual assault in the military is officially known as military sexual trauma, which is defined by VA as "psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training."

According to VA, military sexual trauma includes "any sexual activity where you are involved against your will." This includes, but is not limited to, being threatened, being incapable of making lucid choices such as when drunk, being promised promotions or special treatment, and direct physical coercion. Military sexual trauma is not limited by sexuality and affects both men and women.

The prominence of military sexual trauma has usually been brought to light through high-profile incidents such as the Tailhook scandal of 1991, the Aberdeen scandal in 1996, and the U.S. Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal of 2003. In each of those incidents, sexual assaults were reported in large numbers and were coupled with allegations of cover-ups within the military.

In 2012, a documentary film titled "The Invisible War" investigated the prevalence and nature of sexual assault within the military. The documentary follows multiple veterans as they relate their personal experience with sexual assault as well as their struggle to take legal action. On April 14, 2012 then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched the film, and two days later, he codified a directive which ordered all sexual assault cases to be handled by officers at the rank of colonel or higher, which ended the ability of unit commanders to handle cases themselves.

As of 2014, there is a law being considered that will strip Military officers of any power to review, consider, or prosecute cases regarding sexual assault and rape.

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