By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eight current and former U.S. service members alleged in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday they were raped, assaulted or sexually harassed while in the military and were retaliated against when they complained.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington accuses military leaders of having a "high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and 'zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment."
The eight women include a Marine on active duty and seven veterans of the Marine Corps and Navy. Seven allege that a fellow service member raped or tried to sexually assault them, and an eighth said she was harassed while deployed outside the United States.
The suit says the Pentagon has failed to take enough steps to deal with the problem despite avowals to do so.
Defendants include Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and former Defense and Navy secretaries and Marine commandants.
"Men and women should not have to check their constitutional rights at the door. No one should have to submit to being raped to be able to serve," Susan Burke, the women's attorney, told Reuters on the margins of a news conference.
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement that it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation but that sexual assault had no place in the Defense Department.
Under a policy announced in December, service members who report a sexual assault can quickly transfer from their unit or base, she said.
The Defense Department has boosted funding for investigators and judges to get training in sexual assault cases and is putting together a database to track cases, Smith said.
"One sexual assault is one too many," she said.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Thomasch)