According to Marine Corps lore, semper fidelis, a Latin phrase for "always faithful," commands Marines to remain a "brotherhood, faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what. Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone and once made, a Marine will forever live by the ethics and values of the Corps."
The Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., is the official residence of the commandant of the Marine Corps. It is the home of the Marines who are the ceremonial guard for the president during official U.S. government functions and the security force for the White House and Camp David. The Marine Band, also located at the Barracks, is known as "The President's Own." The Barracks is the showplace of the Marine Corps with its Silent Drill Platoon giving weekly military precision performances for the public during the busy summer tourist season.
But the Marine Barracks has its dark and ugly side. It is also the home of officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps who have been accused of sexually harassing, assaulting and raping female Marine officers and enlisted and civilian women who work there.
According to information provided by the Marine Barracks Washington legal adviser at the request of the Senate Armed Services Committee minority counsel, from 2009 to 2010 three female Marines and two civilian women reported to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) that they had been raped by male Marines. Two of the female Marines held high-visibility jobs at the Barracks and said they were raped by senior officers.
During the same period, two other female Marines and two other civilian women reported that they had been sexually harassed by Marines at the Barracks.
Second Rape Lawsuit Filed Against Marines, Navy and DOD
On March 6, 2012, attorney Susan Burke filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of eight military women -- four Marines and four Navy members -- who said they were raped while in the service. Two of the four female Marine officers served at the Barracks and alleged that they had been raped by Marines assigned there. The two, Lt. Ariana Klay and Lt. Elle Helmer, spoke at a news conference announcing the lawsuit and on national TV shows afterward.
This is the second lawsuit filed in a little over a year against the Department of Defense on the issue of rape in the military. The first lawsuit was filed on Feb. 15, 2011, and was brought by 15 female and two male active-duty military personnel and veterans. They accused the DOD of permitting a military culture that fails to prevent rape and sexual assault and alleged that it mishandled cases that were brought to its attention, thus violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.
On Dec. 9, 2011, U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady dismissed the suit, saying the sexual assault allegations were "troubling" but that Supreme Court and other court decisions had advised against judicial involvement in cases of military discipline. O'Grady cited Gilligan v. Morgan, decided in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined that "matters of military discipline should be left to the 'political branches directly responsible -- as the judicial branch is not -- to the electoral process.'" O'Grady said, "Not even the egregious allegations within the plaintiffs' complaint will prevent dismissal."
The March 2012 lawsuit names current and former secretaries of defense and military chiefs of the Navy and Marine Corps as defendants. It alleges that "Although defendants testified before Congress and elsewhere that they have 'zero tolerance' for rape and sexual assault, their conduct and the facts demonstrate the opposite: They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and "zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment." The lawsuit alleges that "Defendants have a long-standing pattern of ignoring congressional mandates designed to ameliorate the armed services' dismal record of rape and sexual assault. As but one example, defendant [Leon] Panetta [secretary of defense] continues to violate the law requiring the Department of Defense to establish an incident-specific Sexual Assault Database no later than January 2010." More than two years later, the database still does not exist.
"Rather than being respected and appreciated for reporting crimes and unprofessional conduct," the lawsuit alleges, "plaintiffs and others who report are branded 'troublemakers,' endure egregious and blatant retaliation, and are often forced out of military service."
Lt. Ariana Klay
According to the lawsuit, Klay, a Naval Academy graduate, served as a protocol officer for the Marine Barracks. She alleges that while there, she was sexually harassed by a lieutenant colonel, a major and a captain. She said she was gang-raped by a Marine officer and his civilian friend, a former Marine. Klay alleges that the Marine officer threatened to kill her and told his friend he would show him "what a slut she was" and "humiliate" her.
After she reported the alleged rapes and subsequent harassment, the Marine Corps investigation ruled that she welcomed the harassment because "she wore makeup, regulation-length skirts as a part of her uniform and exercised in running shorts and tank tops."
The Marine Corps did not punish any of those who were accused of sexually harassing Klay. One of her alleged harassers was granted a waiver by the Corps that permitted him to get a security clearance despite accusations of hazing and sexual misconduct against not only Klay but many others. He was selected to be in a nationally televised recruitment commercial while he was still under investigation. According to the lawsuit, the Marine Corps featured Klay's alleged rapist and a harasser in the Marine calendar.