Sexual assault in the U.S military

Posted Saturday, May. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Usually when one thinks of an escalation by or within the U.S. military, it is about an an armed conflict, an increase in personnel to fight a defined enemy.

But the latest surge that has caused alarm within, and outside, the ranks of the armed forces has nothing to do with declared wars, enemy combatants or the ongoing battles against terrorism.

Last week the Pentagon released a report that showed an escalation of sexual assaults in the military that some have called an epidemic, despite recent scandals and the years-long emphasis by the Defense Department to address what has been a longstanding problem.

Based on anonymous surveys, the report estimates that up to 26,000 service members were victims of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, an increase of 35 percent since 2010 when there were about 19,300 cases. But of all those occurrences last year, there were only 3,374 reported cases, still a jump of 6 percent over the prior year.

Those figures are deplorable and must not be tolerated in the world’s most powerful and distinguished military. No crime, and especially this kind of behavior, can be ignored, rationalized, swept under the rug or summarily dismissed because of a protective code or culture.

Despite the fact that women have been integrated into the armed forces for decades and have been on the front lines in the most recent wars, it is clear that our military is still very much a macho world. That should not translate into an out-of-control atmosphere that tolerates assaults on women or men.

And by no means should anyone dare suggest that the mere presence of women in the military fosters this kind of behavior and, therefore, it was a mistake for them to serve alongside men. That is a ridiculous argument.

Through a uniform chain of command, expert training and strict disciplinary rules, the U.S. armed forces should be the epitome of order, self-control and respect for one’s fellow service members.

But one has to wonder, considering the investigation of 30 Air Force instructors accused of assaulting trainees at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, the cases of officers overturning guilty verdicts of those convicted of abuse, and the sexual assault charges last week against the Air Force’s chief of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch.

It is clear, based on these recent incidents and this latest report, that the military cannot solve this problem alone. Congress and the executive branch must also play a role not only in providing guidance and some persuasion, but also in making sure that regulations in place are enforced and violators are punished.

Appropriate outrage has been shown by the president and some members of Congress who realize that all the awareness, prevention and assistance programs introduced in the past few years have not been effective enough.

Bills being introduced aim at encouraging the reporting of assaults, reforming sexual misconduct rules (including providing attorneys for women who have been abused) and prohibiting officers from overturning guilty verdicts.

Rep. Jackie Speir, D-Calif., who authored some of that legislation, says Congress has to share some of the blame for the “broken system.”

In a speech on the House floor Tuesday, she said, “Congress is as culpable as the military in not addressing it, because we’ve known about this issue for 25 years. We are big on holding hearings and beating our chests and saying, ‘That has to stop.’ And the big brass comes up to the Hill, and they say all the right words.”

The congresswoman is right. On this serious issue there has to be more action than words — from the commander in chief to the Congress to the newest recruit. All should speak out about sexual misconduct, and all must act to help prevent it.

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