The Air Force has dropped its recommendation to discharge a servicewoman who claimed that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by three of her superiors -- two days after the Air Force Times first reported on the alleged retaliation.
Ciera Bridges, a senior airman at Nellis Air Force Base, claims that her chain of command has been retaliating against her since she began making complaints that she was being sexually harassed and assaulted. Bridges says her superiors have reprimanded her multiple times since the harassment began in 2009, and the Air Force recommended in January that she be discharged from the military. Meanwhile, one staff sergeant who allegedly forced her onto a desk in a dark office and pressed his groin against her is still serving in the Air Force.
Shortly after the Air Force Times published a story Monday on the Air Force's alleged culture of retaliation -- including Bridges' story -- the publication reported Wednesday that the Air Force had dropped its discharge recommendation.
Bridges' Air Force attorney, Capt. Windel L. Patterson, said Bridges is pleased with the decision, but continues to seek justice for the crimes committed against her.
"My client is grateful for the attention her plight received and for all of the positive responses and assistance. She is thankful for the resolution on the discharge and elated to have the opportunity to remain in the Air Force," Patterson said in a statement. "But the emotional scars from years of harassment and assault, as well as nearly 10 months of stress and fearing for her Air Force career along with being subjugated as an outcast, remain. My client is resolute that action needs to be taken against those in her unit whom violated her trust."
Nellis Air Force Base did not respond to a request for comment.
According to a Pentagon report released earlier this year, 62 percent of servicemen and servicewomen who reported sexual assault say they faced some kind of retaliation afterward from the chain of command. Protect Our Defenders, a sexual assault victim advocacy group that has been helping Bridges with her case, said the incident underscores the need for Congress to pass a bill like that of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which would remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command.
"Unfortunately, what happened to Airman Bridges is something we see far too often in the military -- the victim of sexual harassment and assault is punished for coming forward," Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a statement. "We call on the military to conduct an investigation into the retaliation that Bridges has faced. Our brave sons and daughters, brothers and sisters that risk their lives for us deserve to receive justice equal to the civilians they protect. We need a professional, independent, impartial military justice system, rather than leaving the authority to prosecute and adjudicate in the hands of an often biased chain of command."