Baldwin et al. v. Department of Defense: Removing Offenders from Military Sexual Assault Cases

In the last few years the severity of the sexual assault epidemic in the U.S. military has entered the public consciousness. However, despite AAUW’s ongoing work, many survivors still struggle to find justice. The courageous survivors in Baldwin et al. v. Department of Defense were advancing the crucial fight against military sexual assault. Unfortunately, the Baldwin cases were dismissed, citing established precedent: Service members are not permitted to sue for events arising in the course of their service.

The Story behind Baldwin

Celina Baldwin, Alyssa Rodriguez, Jennifer Smith, and Carmelita Swain served in the U.S. military. All four service members were forced to endure sexual assault or rape while on active duty, some during deployments. Although each plaintiff tried to seek justice through the military’s system, they claim that the military failed to provide fair hearings or protect them from retaliation. Moreover, they claim the military allowed service members who were themselves accused of sexual harassment or assault to serve as convening authorities in charge of sexual misconduct investigations. The plaintiffs also allege that the U.S. Department of Defense failed in its duty to protect them from sexually hostile work environments.

AAUW has supported several earlier lawsuits brought by veteran survivors of sexual assault. The Baldwin plaintiffs continued that fight with new legal theories: In addition to constitutional claims, the Baldwin plaintiffs filed suit under federal laws (including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination in employment) that protect civilian employees. The plaintiffs requested an injunction to stop the military from allowing service members who have committed sexual harassment or assault to serve as convening authorities in sexual assault investigations. The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund often supports cases that utilize innovative legal strategies to establish precedent that promotes equality for women in the workplace, on campus, and in the military.

Why Baldwin Matters

More than 200,000 women are serving in the active-duty military, making up about 15 percent of the active-duty force. The Department of Defense estimates that 20,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2014. The epidemic of sexual assaults in the military must end, and reforming the military justice system is a necessary step.

AAUW is proud to have supported these four courageous servicewomen who were taking a stand against military sexual assault. AAUW will continue to advocate for the rights of servicewomen until we have brought justice to survivors.

AAUW Members and Supporters Make It Possible

The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund has been crucial to the success of many gender discrimination cases since 1981. Our case-support program provides financial and organizational backing for plaintiffs who are challenging gender discrimination in education and the workplace. The funds come directly from the generous contributions of AAUW members.

Read about current LAF-supported cases