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.
“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.