Did the military turn a blind eye to rape victims? A local former Marine says yes, along with 13 other active and former U.S. service members.
The group of women, including a former Camp Pendleton Marine, says they were attacked by a group of Marines they knew and thought they could trust.
The women say military leadership ignored their cries for help and are suing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The lawsuits claim both failed to take aggressive measures to protect women in the military and crack down on the military's sexist culture.
They hope the lawsuit will get top officials at the Pentagon to take notice of stories, like that of former Camp Pendleton Marine Sarah Albertson, and take action.
Albertson says a higher-ranking officer climbed into her bed and raped her after a night of drinking.
"I kind of panicked and froze. I didn't say anything," said Albertson.
Even more traumatic, she says she had to face him at work everyday and claims she tried to get help, but was told to “get over it.”
"That was just the general attitude. The specific word were, 'Marines don't cry'," said Albertson.
Her only relief: Being deployed to Fallujah.
"I actually felt much safer there than I did back at our command," said Albertson.
Albertson's story is all too familiar. Military sexual assault victims say the close quarters of the barracks in the mess halls leave them feeling isolated and they're afraid to come forward out of fear they'll be singled out.
A new victims advocate program has been started to offer help when it's needed most. The training classes are part of a Department of Defense (DOD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. The program started in 2004, but as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit point out, the effort did little to fix chronic problems with the way cases are handled and change a culture that doesn't take sexual misconduct seriously enough.
Military leaders have admitted they've got to do better.
"If you're the one to step up, you'll know they’re standing behind you and support you when you go to stop what looks like an event beginning to occur,” said Rear Adm. Dan Holloway, speaking with reporters last year.
One in five women in the Navy and Marine Corps say they've been victimized, while one in 12 male Sailors and Marines say they've been targeted. Often times it is commanders who are complicit in cover-ups like these and the problem is believed to be more widespread.
“There is a proportion of those Sailors and Marines that we can prevent from making one of the biggest mistakes of their lives by becoming the perpetrator,” said Sexual Assault Prevention & Response spokesperson Jill Loftus.
In 2009, there were more than 3,200 sexual assaults in the military, but the Pentagon says most go unreported. The Pentagon's own figures suggest fewer than one fourth of sexual assaults are ever reported.