HAVERHILL — Mary Gallagher said no one would help her.
She said she had been raped, but calling the police was not an option. She was serving in the U.S. military in Iraq, and told her supervisor about the assault. Nothing was done, she said.
To make matters worse, her attacker was a fellow serviceman. That scenario, according to Haverhill native Gallagher and other military veterans who say they are victims of rape, is far too common.
They have filed a class-action suit in federal court demanding the Pentagon change how it handles such cases.
The veterans are receiving support from 5th District Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and Ohio 3rd District Congressman Mike Turner, who introduced a bill to address the problem of sexual assault in the military.
The legislation would provide victims with the right to legal counsel and transfer to another base, maintain confidentiality when speaking with victim advocates, and provide greater training for sexual assault prevention and response at every level of the armed services.
Gallagher is a 12-year member of the Air National Guard who lives in Norwood. She told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday that she supports the legislation and hopes it will result in more victims coming forward.
"Congresswoman Tsongas is really taking the lead in making some necessary changes," Gallagher said. "She's really serious about this and I applaud that."
The current and former service members involved in the lawsuit — 15 women and two men — described circumstances in which fellow servicemen allegedly got away with rape and other sexual abuse while their victims were ordered to continue to serve with them. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in February have publicly discussed the cases.
Gallagher, 38, said she lived in Haverhill until she was 10, when her family moved to the Boston area. She said the legislation Tsongas filed provides victims with options, such as having someone to consult with in a confidential way.