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Will reporting sexual harassment hurt your military career?

Although sexual harassment and assault are not permitted in the military, are victims who come forward protected? A recent service member’s story may raise concerns.

The service member was unsure how to respond to sexual harassment from a higher ranking officer. Her commander advised her to file a formal complaint. Unfortunately, although that put an end to communications from the higher raking officer, it also opened the door to more serious trouble. In fact, the service member believes that filing the complaint led to her less-than-honorable discharge.

Our military law firm has helped many clients prepare for their defense to a variety of military proceedings, including courts-martial, record corrections, discharge hearings, command investigations and other potentially adverse events. Even something as seemingly minor as a written reprimand could escalate to more serious consequences.

In this example, the service member’s behavior was also investigated after she filed the formal complaint alleging sexual harassment against the higher ranking officer. The investigators concluded that she had acted inappropriately, perhaps by lying about consensual sex. To the contrary, the service member is a lesbian, but she was afraid to disclose her sexual orientation. The investigation concluded with a letter of reprimand against her. That, in turn, ultimately led to her less-than-honorable discharge on the ground of unacceptable conduct.

Without an honorable discharge, a service member may be unable to obtain a whole host of post-service benefits, such as transition assistance, post-military health care, and even subsequent job opportunities. In this case, the service member could not get into the National Guard because of her history. All of these consequences underscore the importance of consulting with an attorney even when a military dispute seems minor.

Source: Time, “Military Sexual Assault Victims Discharged After Filing Complaints,” Mark Thompson, May 18, 2016

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