Women sue US military chiefs over rapes

Former West Point and Annapolis cadets claim officials systematically ignore sexual crimes
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Two women have filed lawsuits against a former Secretary of Defence and other top officials, alleging they were raped while students at two of America's elite service academies, and that the Pentagon and the colleges did nothing to prevent it.

In the case, brought at federal court in New York, the former female cadets who attended West Point, the US Army college, and its naval counterpart at Annapolis claim their careers were ruined by the attacks. They are seeking not only sweeping reforms, but unspecified financial damages.

Named as defendants are Robert Gates, Secretary of Defence between 2006 and 2011, and the current secretaries of the Army and Navy, as well as the former superintendents of both academies. They are accused of being "personally responsible" on the grounds they "systemically and repeatedly" ignored "rampant sexual harassment". The US military establishment, says the lawsuit, has a "high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and 'zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment".

Yesterday West Point and Annapolis insisted they had strong procedures in place to deal with rape and sexual harassment. The Pentagon would not directly address the alleged incidents, but Leon Panetta, Mr Gate's successor at the Pentagon, last week ordered new steps to curb thousands of sexual assault cases in the military: "We've got to train commanders to understand that they've got to do their damnedest to see that these people are brought to justice." The two women claim that while they were assured their cases were being followed up, nothing was done, and the alleged perpetrators were unpunished and stayed in the military.

Karley Marquet, 20, said she was in her first year at West Point in January 2011 when she was raped by an upperclassman. She reported the incident, but claimed that West Point required her "to empty her perpetrator's trash every day" as a requirement that freshmen follow all directions from upperclassmen. Ms Marquet states that she became "depressed and suicidal" and the "hostile environment" and eventually left. Investigators did meet her parents, and promised that if her rapist wasn't going to jail, "they could at least get him kicked out of West Point," she told CNN. But nothing happened. The other plaintiff, Annie Kendzior, now 22, chose the Naval Academy in 2008 over 30 other colleges, keen to fly Navy F-18 jets. But the suit states that she was raped twice, once by a fellow student aftera party and again months later in a hotel room by a classmate. Like Ms Marquet, Ms Kendzior maintains that she was promised action would be taken, but it never was.

The case comes a month after eight women filed a lawsuit in Washington DC, claiming they were raped or harassed while in the military, but suffered retaliation when they complained.