Widespread sexual abuse lawsuits have been rampant throughout organizations for decades, including religious institutions, workplaces, youth organizations, sports teams, and schools. But it’s only been in recent years that these crimes have been highly publicized, drawing attention to the horrors that people of all ages have been subjected to for decades – and how perpetrators are rarely held responsible for their actions.
Now, the U.S. military is in the spotlight after they released a statement detailing recent sexual assault charges filed against a military doctor. In late August, officials charged Maj. Michael Stockin with abusive sexual contact and indecent viewing.
So far, 23 alleged victims have come forward, claiming the Army doctor sexually assaulted them. The charges came following a year-long investigation into accusations against Stockin. The alleged actions of the 10-year service member violate military law, and an upcoming trial will determine whether he’s found guilty of sexual assault.
In 2019, Stockin began working as an anesthesiologist at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) pain clinic in Washington. He was removed from his position in February 2022 after one of his alleged victims accused him of sexual assault. But Stockin was allowed to continue working at the base in a different position. The response is eerily similar to that of the Catholic Church, which regularly reassigned those accused of clergy sex abuse to other communities, putting more people at risk.
While sexual assault in the military can carry a conviction of up to 30 years, many perpetrators see little jail time, if any. Sentencing for these crimes may also include a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, such as VA benefits, and registration on the sex offenders list. However, there’s been much controversy surrounding the military’s response to and sentencing of service members who commit sexual assault.
As one of the military’s largest sexual abuse cases, the outcome of Stockin’s trial is highly anticipated. It may spur even further changes within the military to better support survivors of sexual abuse and address an alarming culture that seems to have better-protected perpetrators than victims for decades.
In addition to criminal charges, there may be civil sexual abuse lawsuits filed against Stockin in the future. These types of civil cases against service members have historically been somewhat of a gray area, but several sex abuse lawsuits in recent years have been upheld in court. This has allowed victims of sexual abuse by military members to seek an alternative – or additional – form of justice and receive compensation for their suffering.
Military Sexual Assault Statistics and History
According to the Pentagon’s annual report, there were 7,378 reports of sexual assault in the U.S. military in 2022, a 1% increase over the previous year. At an increase of 13%, the report showed that the Air Force saw the greatest jump in sex abuse claims among the four services, including the Navy, Army, and Marine Corps.
There were an additional 797 reports made by civilians in the Defense Department who claimed they were assaulted by service members and 580 service members who reported they were abused before their time in service.
The rate of military service members who have been sexually abused has steadily increased each year since 2010. Unfortunately, it’s well-known that most victims never report these crimes, so the actual number of sexual assaults is much higher than reported.
To make matters worse, there’s been a decrease in cases with evidence of assault referred to commanders for court martial. This decrease has been occurring for ten years. It is claimed to result from perpetrators being held accountable in alternative ways, such as dishonorable discharges and other administrative actions – rather than through criminal charges.
However, the scarcity of criminal cases involving sexual assault in the military is also because of a lack of trust and belief in their justice system. Victims worry they won’t be believed, feel pressured to handle things internally (and quietly), are intimidated, and/or fear they’ll be reprimanded or retaliated against.
Such was the case of numerous cadets who took part in training programs on U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Vessels. Cadet victims of sexual assault stayed silent due to a culture of fear; some abusers told them that no one would believe them, and others feared that reporting abuse would reflect poorly on the Academy. Without confidence that sexual assault in the military will be handled properly and that justice will be served, many victims continue to feel helpless and stay silent.
Sexual abuse is a deeply personal, life-changing crime. Survivors need and deserve access to crucial support and faith in the system that’s supposed to protect them and prevent others from the same experiences. And with the long-standing scrutiny surrounding how the military handles sexual assault, significant changes are needed to address the toxic culture.
Effects of Military Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
The 2022 Annual Report on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response released by the Department of Defense estimated that over 8% of female service members and 1.5% of male service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2021. Like many other organizations, these numbers are far too high, yet much lower than reality.
As the military criminal case against Stockin proceeds in the coming months, the results of this case are likely to have an even more significant impact than most realize. When sex abuse claims of this kind are heavily reported in the news, more and more people pay attention, including victims. The outcome of the charges against Stockin will affect past and future victims who are sexually assaulted in the military or by a service member – specifically, their decision to report what happened.
Furthermore, if he’s found guilty but the sentencing is light, it will only reinforce the harmful culture and lead to more survivors of sexual abuse believing that speaking out isn’t worth the emotional trauma of a criminal or civil lawsuit. Many victims have already experienced intimidation and retaliation by perpetrators and the institutions they’re a part of. When a claim isn’t taken seriously or is outright ignored, it has a profound effect.
As Louisiana sex abuse lawyers, we’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of these heinous crimes. Our team of attorneys at Herman Herman Katz handles civil sex abuse cases with the highest confidentially and utmost care and recognizes the courage it takes to come forward.
Whether the police are involved or not, meeting with one of our experienced sexual abuse attorneys can help ensure victims get the compensation they’re entitled to. Contact us online or call 844-943-7626 for a free, confidential case review.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.