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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Gang rape, harassment and sexual assault. Those are among the allegations from eight women in a lawsuit filed this week against the Department of Defense.

The suit filed Tuesday claims military officials, including the current and former secretaries of Defense, ignored the rampant problem of sexual assaults.

One of the women lives here in Wilmington.

“We all just wanted to serve our country and be good Marines and service members,” former Marine Lt. Elle Helmer said. “Ultimately we were failed.”

Helmer is one of eight current and former female service members who filed a lawsuit alleging rape, sexual assault and harassment while serving in the military.

Click here to read the entire lawsuit

“It’s very hard to come forward and admit what they would call weakness, but what I would call strength in the sense that people are coming forward and asking for help,” Helmer said.

She claims her assault occurred while stationed at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, as a public affairs officer.

She says after being ordered to attend a Marine Corps-endorsed pub crawl and drink excessively, her boss, a major, ordered her back to his office and raped her.

“Ultimately I fell and hit my head on the corner of his desk and was knocked out,” she said. “During the time I was knocked out was when the rape occurred.”

Helmer says she was ultimately forced out of the Marine Corps, which she says is far too common with other victims.

“The Department of Defense is ultimately losing good personnel, and victims are becoming collateral damage,” Helmer said.

The lawsuit claims many of the men questioned were barely punished, if at all. It’s an issue Helmer says goes beyond the service women who report the assaults.

“My rapist was served collateral duties at the White House,” she said. “With that said, these people guard the president.”

Helmer says she hopes the lawsuit is a catalyst for change and the military realizes how big this problem really is.

“Take care of your people, and if you’re losing your people, it’s ultimately weakening a nation. It’s a homeland security issue,” she said.

A Defense Department spokeswoman told the Associated Press that she could not discuss pending litigation, but said the military has no tolerance for sexual assault.

Comment on this Story

  • Commonsensenotcommontoday

    First, let me make a statement. I have no doubt that Lieutenant Helmer was “ordered” to attend a social function. A simple mention of “The CO desires” is equivalent to an order and the pressure to attend social functions is very heavy on commissioned officers.

    That said, in twenty-two years I NEVER saw a Marine ordered to drink alcohol. Even at mess night, non-alcoholic grape juice was provided for those who did not drink. Most of us simply nursed one or two glasses for all the toasts. I’m therefore calling BS on the “ordered to drink” aspect of the Lietenant’s story.

    Now, don’t think I’m discounting the majority of her story or even the basis of the lawsuit. Twenty-two years also showed me that being an attractive woman in an 90% male organization is not an easy row to hoe. I spent far too much of my time wrapped up in sexual harrassment, rapes, fraternization, and people who simply had a hard time working with women.

    I have to ask the Lieutenant, however, what actions she took when she discovered that she had been raped? Did she immediately report the crime to her CO or XO? Did she involve NIS and go to the hospital to have a rape kit recover evidence?

    If the Major engaged in intercourse while she was unconscious he is legally guilty of rape and should have been subjected to a general court martial. If, however, she did what is oh so common, was emotionally torn, worried about her career, didn’t want to see a formerly well-behaved comrade go down in flames (worse if he was married), and never made an official charge of rape, then why raise the issue now?

    I fully understand the dilemma that women in this situation face, but I have never seen a guilty rapist walk when the proper steps were taken by the woman after the rape. Unfortunately I also saw several assaults and a few likely rapes that never resulted in charges because of hesitation and delays in reporting the crime for exactly what it was.

    The Marine Corps can’t be blamed if an official cahrge was never filed.

    As I said, I’m not rejecting the Lieutenant’s version of events nor the merits of the lawsuit. My greatest wish, however, is that young Marines would realize that all loyalty and allegiance ends the minute the other Marine touches you against your will.

  • Wilmguest

    I encourage you to read the report attached to the story. The LT did indeed report the incident immediately and despite being discouraged by command officials had the courage to request a rape kit….and guess what?! The rape kit was “lost”!

    I respect your time in service, but really your comment is reflective of pervasive culture norms that make it so difficult to come forward when sexually assaulted. Automatically your response was to focus on her drinking and how she reported it. (The immediate response was to put blame on her…it must have been something she did–or didn’t do.)

    Keep in mind that she was right out of Basic and went right to 8th & I. Any junior Marine (officer or enlisted) is going to jump at “A simple mention of “The CO desires”-to use your words-to include drinking with your seniors. Think back to when you were a junior Marine…and if you chose not to drink with your senior leaders at a mess night, boss’s night, wet down, etc. I’m talking–the boot days. No, I’m sure she wasn’t forced, but you and I both know her decision to not drink would have resulted in even more criticism-since it was “The CO’s desires.” I mean…We work hard, we play hard, right?

    By the way, it WAS her CO who raped her..??? Then again, maybe she was forced to drink.

    I truely commend you for your closing wish…now if only the Commands would “realize that all loyalty and allegiance ends the minute the other Marine touches you against your will.”

    Semper Fidelis-


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