Military misstep on sexual assault

June 16, 2013 

With a projection that as many as 26,000 members of the U.S. military were sexually assaulted last year, it’s clear that the brass has been doing a very poor job of deterring the crime. Only 3,374 assaults were actually reported – a 6 percent increase over 2011 – so the perception must be that telling someone in the chain of command isn’t worthwhile. Indeed, a survey of victims found that a fear of retaliation is the main reason the assaulted keep silent.

Unfortunately, the Senate Armed Services Committed last week voted down a proposal to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether sexual misconduct cases go to trial. Under a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., seasoned trial lawyers with prosecutorial experience and who hold at least the rank of colonel would have made the determination.

Instead, the committee voted 17-9 for a bill crafted by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would, among other things, make it a crime to retaliate against victims who report sexual assaults and calls on the Pentagon to relieve commanders who don’t create a climate receptive for victims.

These are good steps but not the dramatic change needed to shake the military culture out of its good ol’ boy status quo – especially not when so many victims say their assailants were someone senior to them. Not when the enemy is within.

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