Claiming the shortage of women in military academies puts female students at greater risk of sexual assaults and harassment, several groups sued the U.S. Department of Defense Tuesday seeking access to the schools’ admission policies and enrollment numbers.
The Service Women’s Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Connecticut sued the department for violating the Freedom of Information Act. The groups say they sought enrollment data and information about recruiting and admission practices from the department in November and the information has been withheld.
The groups want to see enrollment records from the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Officials at the Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.
Increasing female enrollment at the academies is a vital step in reducing the “culture of sexual violence in the military,” said Greg Jacob, policy director at Service Women’s Action Network and a former Marine Corps infantry officer.
Between 2008 and 2012, reports of sex assaults at the academy jumped from 25 to 70, he said, while still other instances went unreported.
The first step in tackling the assault, violence and harassment women face in the military is to “first root it out at the academies,” he said.
While some progress has been made in fostering female leadership in the military, he added, “the next logical step is to increase the number of women in military service academies.”
The plaintiffs aren’t seeking records from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy because it has the greatest share of females enrolled, according to U.S. Air Force Academy graduate Ashley Anderson, who is a law student intern at the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School.
That clinic at Yale and the Connecticut ACLU are representing the plaintiffs in the suit.
At academies where male students drastically outnumber females, it results in “misogynistic policies toward female applicants,” Anderson said. “They are discriminatory.”
The schools perpetuate male-dominated cultures “where women are harassed and assaulted,” she said.
Of the 70 reports of sexual assaults the academies received during the 2012-13 year, more than 90 percent of the victims were women, the plaintiffs claim.
The purpose of the lawsuit is to “try to find the reason why the numbers of women at these academies are so low,” said Stephen Glassman, executive director of the Connecticut ACLU. “We can use the information we obtain to advocate for a change in the admissions process.”
The Connecticut ACLU is the only state ACLU that is a party to the lawsuit. Since the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School is located in Connecticut, the state ACLU has a close working relationship with the group – as well as with the Service Women’s Action Network – so it made the most sense logistically to file the lawsuit in Connecticut, according to Sandra Staub, legal director of the Connecticut ACLU.