Military Sexual Assault Survivors Fight Doctrine Feres: Wilson

The Feres Doctrine of 1950 is the legal doctrine that for more than 70 years has denied members of the armed forces who are on active duty the right to sue the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The Feres Doctrine has been used to deny civil suits because “military personnel should not be able to sue for injuries sustained while on duty.”

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 led to the first crack in the Feres Doctrine, as it allows victims of ‘medical malpractice by a defense health care provider’ to sue for damages – civil interests.

Active-duty military victims of sexual assault couldn’t sue for damages in civilian court because of the doctrine, but thanks to California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it could be on the verge. to change.

The Court of Appeals ruled that “the Feres Doctrine does not prevent a retired colonel from suing a former Air Force general for his sexual assault allegations.” It should be noted that the Air Force did not file charges or sanction the general.

“Service incident” bluntly means that sexual assault is an expectation one faces when serving one’s country.

The “service incident” cited by the government in past cases cannot be found in federal law, and top legal scholars have attempted to determine why it became part of the Feres doctrine.

The three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in their decision that “they cannot understand how the sexual assault alleged in this case could ever be considered an activity incidental to service.” The ruling went on to state that the plaintiff had the right to sue because “the alleged sexual assault could not in any way serve a military purpose.”

The day after this historic decision, the family of Spec. Vanessa Guillen has filed a $35 million lawsuit in civil court. Spec. Guillen was murdered while on duty in Ft. Hood, Texas, in 2020 after he was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier who committed suicide when authorities attempted to arrest him.

Justice in the military for victims of sexual assault has been thwarted by military judges who have the exclusive power to vary, reduce or dismiss charges, as well as overturn any verdict that may be rendered by a court. martial.

Running the gauntlet of making official statements repeatedly, filing charges against the perpetrator, and dealing with the hostile environment created when a victim dares to come forward is one of the most overwhelming and brutal experiences I have ever had. a member of the armed forces can ever face.

The presiding judge at a court martial may very well be their commanding officer who understandably does not wish such cases to disturb his command. Very often, the accused is not held in pre-trial detention and is free to continue to disrupt the life of the victim.

The U.S. military defends this approach, stating that “the character of the accused soldier involved and his willingness to follow orders are important factors to consider.”

Military justice does not require bail. The commanders who make decisions in these cases are not qualified lawyers.

Is it any wonder that sexual assault is on the rise in military service academies and at all levels in all branches of the service?

Victims of assault are dealing with a game fully and firmly stacked against them.

Do you still wonder why so many military sexual assault victims don’t report the crime? Many try to cope with it and suffer the torments of hell.

But we have a glimmer of hope with this ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and all members of the military community and veterans should demand an end to “business as usual” in the way military sexual assaults are processed.

Real justice for survivors of military sexual trauma is long overdue and we finally have a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel!

— That’s the opinion of Patricia Wilson, veteran and resident of Saint-Cloud. His column appears on the fourth Sunday of the month.

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