It's Time For The Military To Deal With Its Horrifying Sexual Assault Problem

military sexual assault

President Barack Obama will convene top military brass at the White House this afternoon to discuss the rampant sexual assault problems in the military.

The meeting, which will include Vice President Joe Biden, defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, comes as on the heels of several high-profile sexual assault scandals that have rocked the military Pentagon.

Most recently, military officials reported this week that Army Sergeant First Class Gregory McQueen is being investigated for sexual assault and for allegedly running a prostitution ring.

McQueen, who was assigned as the coordinator for the sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, has been suspended from all duties. The allegations against him include forcing at least one subordinate soldier into prostitution and sexually assaulting two other soldiers.

The news came just 10 days after a lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force sexual-assault prevention program was arrested for groping and battering a woman in a Virginia parking lot.

In light of these two recent scandals, defence Secretary Chuck Hagel issued an unprecedented order Tuesday for the military’s sexual assault prevention coordinators and military recruiters be retrained, recredentialed, and rescreened.

It is not clear what how or when this process will be implemented, or if any changes will be made to the military’s sexual assault training program itself. A Pentagon spokesperson told Business Insider that the details are still being worked out, and that Hagel will issue a memorandum with additional information “soon.”

While retraining and rescreening is a start, it is unlikely to go far enough to solve the the widespread, systemic problem of sexual assault in the military. The reality is that male-dominated military culture is permissive of sexist behaviour and harassment, and the military justice system gives commanders of accused troops ultimate power over legal proceedings, including the power to overturn convictions.

If you need further evidence that the military has a sexual assault problem, consider these case synopses, from a report on sexual assault in the armed forces released by the Pentagon last week:

  • A female soldier was followed into her barracks room and groped by a male soldier. He was convicted of abusive sexual contact, and his administrative discharge is pending.
  • Multiple male soldiers in Afghanistan said a fellow soldier rubbed his penis on their buttocks’ through clothing and forced them to grab his genitals on “diverse occasions.” He was convicted of aggravated sexual contact, and punished with reduced rank and extra duty.
  • A male soldier tried to take off a female soldier’s pants and shirt while she was sleeping. He was not charged, and got an administrative discharge.
  • A male sailor summoned a female subordinate into a supply closet, locked the door, and groped her. He was convicted of “maltreatment” and sentenced to 60 days in military jail.
  • A female soldier reported that she woke up to a male soldier digitally raping her while she was asleep in her tent in Afghanistan. He was convicted of aggravated sexual contact.
  • A female soldier under investigation for trading prescription drugs said that a soldier with the military’s Criminal Investigation Division came into her quarters to do a search, told her he could make the charges go away if she gave him oral sex, and then raped her. He was acquitted.
  • A female soldier met a male soldier at a club, where she took one sip of alcohol, blacked out, and woke up having sex with him in a bathroom stall. He was acquitted.
  • A soldier reported that while dealing with depression, a new supervisor came to her house to “console her but ended up putting his hand in her shorts and touching her genitals over her underwear.”

The list goes on and on.

Now consider these horrifying statistics, from the same report:

  • The Pentagon estimates that about 26,000 people in the armed forces experienced sexual assault in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Most of the incidents happened at a military installation (67 per cent) while the service member(s) were on duty.
  • The Pentagon estimates that 6.1 per cent of women in the military were sexually assaulted in 2012, up from about 4.4 per cent in 2010. By comparison, about 0.2 per cent of civilian women over 12 were victims of sexual assault in 2010, the most recent year for which Bureau of Justice Statistics are available.
  • Just 3,374 of last year’s assaults were reported in 2012, up from 3,192 in 2011. Of those reports, 816 remain restricted, meaning that the victim made a report but wished it to remain confidential and therefore no investigation or criminal action was undertaken.
  • Of the active duty women who said they had experienced sexual assault and didn’t report it, 51 per cent said they did not think the report would be kept confidential, 50 per cent said they believed nothing would be done about it, and 47 per cent said they feared being labelled a “troublemaker.”
  • Of the 1,714 service members investigated for sexual assault in 2012, 509 of the cases fell apart because of lack of evidence, victims declined to participate, or the statute of limitations had run out.
  • Commanders dismissed charges against 81 defendants. In 244 cases, commanders decided to prosecute defendants for non-sexual assault-related offenses. And in 286 cases, commanders decided on lesser, non-judicial or administrative charges.
  • Just 238 service members — 14 per cent of those initially facing charges — were convicted for sexual assault-related crimes. (Keep in mind that commanders can overturn those convictions after the fact.)

In light of these alarming numbers, it’s not surprising that the public is starting to take notice — and demand action.

To that end, several members of Congress have proposed legislation aimed at quelling the military’s sexual assault epidemic.

Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have introduced a bill to provide victims of sexual assault in the armed forces with Special Victims’ Counsel and address other gaps for victims of sexual assault in the military justice system.

Reps. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) have introduced legislation that would strip commanders of the ability to overturn court-martial convictions, and would force service members convicted of sexual assault to be dishonorably discharged.

And on Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-N.Y.) and a bipartisan group of 12 other lawmakers introduced a bill that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command — a direct shot at commanders who have overturned sexual assault convictions, including one who overturned a rape conviction because the soldier in question was a “doting father and husband.”

On Wednesday, Dempsey admitted that people have lost confidence that the military can solve its sexual assault problems:

“We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” he said, according to the American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon’s news agency. “That’s a crisis.”

Hagel and Dempsey were scheduled to brief reporters Thursday, but the press conference has been pushed back to Friday due to the White House meeting.

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