WASHINGTON — About 50 participants of a #MeTooMilitary movement rallied outside the Pentagon during the morning rush hour Monday, targeting a longtime and often shunted aside problem of sexual assault in the armed forces.
Active and retired U.S. troops, none in uniform, joined the demonstrators, who held placards supporting legislation that would make the military more accountable to sexual assault and carrying slogans such as “Denial is not a policy,” “Stop the retaliation,” and “#MeTooMilitary.”
There were more than 20,000 reported allegations of sexual assault occurring at military installations over the past four years. Since many victims never report incidents, the real number is likely far higher, according to a Pentagon report that also found victims often face retaliation for coming forward.
The protest was organized by the Service Women’s Action Network, with participating organizations Protect Our Defenders, the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, Common Defense and the Vietnam Veterans of America Women Veterans Committee.
“Despite the many efforts made by the military to address sexual assault and harassment, 58 percent of those who report a sexual assault also report being retaliated against and only 4 percent of cases result in a conviction,” Lydia Watts, SWAN CEO, said in a statement.
“True progress will be measured when there is a wholesale culture change in which retaliation is not tolerated, survivors feel safe coming forward and there are swift and fair prosecutions,” she said.
Pentagon officials told reporters they fully support the protesters and that the demonstration underscores ongoing efforts to eliminate sexual harassment and assault from the military.
“DoD encourages greater reporting of sexual assault to connect victims with restorative care and as an important means to hold offenders appropriately accountable,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross said in a statement.
Near the end of the protest some Pentagon staff, including Dana White, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, walked outside to express their support and pass out hot chocolate.
Also speaking at the event were retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders; Monica Medina, former special assistant to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta; and Heath Phillips, a male MST survivor.
“[The Pentagon] is where I joined the club, the #MeToo club. This club is not one I wanted or even admitted being a part of until a couple of months ago. But today I am here to tell my story in public for the first time,” Medina said. “I was sexually harassed here, and it changed the course of my career. When it happened, I was young and had no one to help me do anything about it.”