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Pentagon Sued For Allegedly Mishandling Sexual Assault Complaints

More than a dozen current and former members of the U.S. military filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Washington claiming the U.S. Defense Department mishandled their claims of being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by fellow service members while on active duty. The alleged victims want the Pentagon to change the way it handles such sexual assault cases.

In a class action lawsuit, a group of more than a dozen current or former US military service members, mostly female say they were raped or abused by their comrades. They claim when the incidents were reported miltary commanders repeatedly failed to act and they were ordered to continue to serve with those who allegedly abused them.

Myla Haider, who served in the Army says she was raped by a fellow solider in Korea in 2002. "The people who committ these offenses are sexual predators who are very good at selecting their victims and tend to offend again and again and that is a fact that is not recognized within the DOD [Department of Defense] system and it is treated as if it is an issue between soldiers and it is not," Haider said.

The lawsuit claims the alleged abuse rangeed from obscene verbal abuse to gang rape. The case names Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld as defendants claiming they did nothing to handle such complaints and concerns.

Anuradha Bhagwati is executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, a human rights group. "Rape, sexual assualt and sexual harassment are a plague apond the US military. It is a climate of sexual violence and intimidation threatens our national security by underminding operational readiness, draining moral, harming retenation and destroying lives," Bhagwati said.

The Service Women's Action Network says more than 16,000 service members reported rape or sexual assaults throughout the military in 2009. The Pentagon says it believes that 80 percent of all sexual assualts survivors do not report the crime. A Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, issued a statement saying sexual assualt is a wider societal problem but that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been working to ensure the military is doing all it can to prevent and respond to cases.

The dozen or so women and men who are suing the U.S. military say they hope their actions will cause other to come forward. They also want the Pentagon to appoint a special independent panel to handle cases of alleged sexual abuse because they say indivdual commanders have too much say in how sexual assualt allegations are handled.