“Many rape victims suffering from trauma were unfairly discharged for a ‘personality disorder’ or other mental health condition that makes them ineligible for benefits,” HRW said in a statement.
“Others were given ‘Other Than Honorable’ discharges for misconduct related to the assault that shut them out of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system and a broad range of educational and financial assistance.”
The rights group said the consequences of having a “bad paper” discharge or being identified as having a personality disorder are far-reaching.
It impacts “employment, child custody, health care, disability payments, burial rights -– virtually all aspects of life,” HRW said.
HRW said researchers interviewed 163 sexual assault survivors from the Vietnam War era to the present day.
The report comes as the Pentagon tries to stamp out sexual assaults and retaliation against those who report it.
The Pentagon says troops made 6,083 reports of sexual assault last year, equating to about four in 1,000 service members — a similar figure to the previous year, despite a smaller overall size of the military’s active-duty force.
Officials say such numbers show the problem is actually declining, and that victims are now more willing to come forward to report assaults.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last month unveiled a sexual assault retaliation prevention strategy, saying both sexual assault and retaliations against those reporting it undermine military values.
“Victims of sexual assault should not fear repercussions associated with reporting the crime,” a Pentagon report states.
“Nonetheless, department research indicates that many victims of sexual assault who reported the matter perceived some kind of retaliation associated with doing so.”
HRW acknowledged that the US military has implemented some protections for troops reporting sexual assaults, “but nothing has been done to redress the wrongs done to those who were unfairly discharged.”
The Pentagon disputed HRW’s findings and the methodology used in the investigation.
“There is no indication they actually reviewed service records, discharge records, or service standards, to objectively assess whether the discharge was right or wrong,” Pentagon spokesman Major Ben Sakrisson said.
“It’s a bit like questioning a diagnosis based on a patient’s version of her doctor visit without actually seeing any of the lab tests, x-rays, prevailing standards of care, or examining the patient at the time.”