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Lawsuit Looks To Change The Way Military Handles Sexual Assault Cases

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- No longer waiting for military justice. Several women--victims of sexual assault while serving their country--are suing the Department of Defense.

Rick Ritter explains what the women want done.

These women aren't seeking any sort of money or damages. Instead, the lawsuit pushes for commanders to no longer handle rape cases and no retaliation against victims for coming forward.

One victim after the other--brave enough to share their painful experience. Jennifer Smith says she was sexually assaulted while serving in Iraq, claiming her attacker was never punished and she was harassed after reporting it to her commanders.

"You have to go to the root of the problem, and the root of the problem are the commanders," Smith said.

A problem that's no stranger to the military.

"Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape."

The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis has been under scrutiny over the years by allegations of covering up sexual assault claims, forcing them to try and change their culture.

"With everybody on board, midshipmen are now hearing it in the classroom. It's part of their curriculum," said Commander Lyn Hammer, U.S. Naval Academy.

Smith and three other military women have now filed suit, saying the department repeatedly fails to terminate sexual harassers and instead lets those biased and hostile persons control military judicial proceedings.

"That creates this incentive for commanders to see no evil," said attorney Susan Burke.

The attorney for all four women--Susan Burke.

"What has happened over time is that they have developed a track record of not being able to convict sexual predators," Burke said.

The Pentagon says there were 7,000 fewer sexual assaults last year then in 2012, and more women and men are coming forward, but also says more must be done.

"When you have a serious social problem like this, you have to take the long term view, you have to be committed to fighting until it gets fixed," said Burke.

Burke says she expects the Department of Defense to likely try and get the lawsuit tossed out.

About five percent of active military women say they have experienced unwanted sexual advances in the past year.

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