Baldwin et al. v. Department of Defense: Removing Offenders from Military Sexual Assault Cases

In the last few years, the severity of the sexual assault epidemic in the U.S. military has entered the public consciousness. However, despite AAUW’s ongoing work, many survivors still struggle to find justice. The courageous survivors in Baldwin et al. v. Department of Defense are advancing the crucial fight against military sexual assault.

The Story behind Baldwin

Celina Baldwin, Alyssa Rodriguez, Jennifer Smith, and Carmelita Swain served in the U.S. military. All four service members were forced to endure sexual assault or rape while on active duty, some during deployments. Although each plaintiff tried to seek justice through the military’s system, they claim that the military failed to provide fair hearings or protect them from retaliation. Moreover, they claim, the military allowed service members who were themselves accused of sexual harassment or assault to serve as convening authorities in charge of sexual misconduct investigations. The plaintiffs also allege that the U.S. Department of Defense failed in its duty to protect them from sexually hostile work environments.

AAUW has supported several earlier lawsuits brought by veteran survivors of sexual assault. The Baldwin plaintiffs continue that fight with new legal theories: In addition to constitutional claims, the Baldwin plaintiffs filed suit under federal laws (including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination in employment) that protect civilian employees. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the military from allowing service members who have committed sexual harassment or assault to serve as convening authorities in sexual assault investigations. AAUW Chief Operating Officer Jill Birdwhistell spoke about the case at the National Press Club in March 2015.

Why Baldwin Matters

More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, making up about 15 percent of the active-duty force. The DOD estimates that 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year. The epidemic of sexual assault in the military must end, and reforming the military justice system is a necessary step.

AAUW is proud to support these four courageous servicewomen who are taking a stand against military sexual assault. As Birdwhistell said, “We wish this latest lawsuit was not necessary, but because it is, AAUW continues to call for reform of the military justice system. More must be done — in the courts, in Congress, and at the Pentagon — to truly and finally address the pervasive problem of sexual assault in the military.” This LAF-supported lawsuit could help bring justice to veteran survivors.

AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible

The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases during its three-decade history. Our case support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.