Can The Military “Fix” Its Sexual Assault Problem?

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The Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office estimates that 26,000 sexual assault incidences occur each year in the United States military. A new Pentagon report also shows a sharp increase in the estimated number of assaults in the military annually.
Here are some highlights of incidents in the last few years that shows just how rampant sexual assault is in the United States Armed Forces.
(Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski)
In 2013, Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of his entire branch's sexual-assault prevention program, was arrested for allegedly attacking and groping a woman in the parking lot when he was drunk. He was acquitted of the charge of assault and battery. Also in the same year, a sergeant first class at Fort Hood in Texas was relieved of his duties as a sexual assault prevention response coordinator, when he came under investigation for sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, maltreating subordinates, and  according to USA Today reports, for forcing a subordinate into a prostitution ring he allegedly helped run.
The Pentagon recently assessed that rape and sexual assault in the armed forces had jumped 35 percent since 2010. The number of reported sexual crimes — 3,374 — was also up. In 2013, Pentagon spokesman George Little said: “The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military.”

Not all sexual assaults in the military stem from actual physical contact. In 2014, a U.S. Navy official confirmed to CNN that an investigation was underway as to who secretly filmed female officers on the USS Wyoming submarine while they showered and changed clothes. These videos were also distributed among the crew members. While the investigation was ongoing, Navy Vice Adm. M.J. Connor stated in a letter that the alleged perpetrators were removed from the ship pending the outcome of the investigation.
"Incidents that violate the trust of our sailors go against every core value we hold sacred in our naval service," Connor wrote. "We go to war together with the confidence that we can rely on each other in all circumstances, and incidents of sailors victimizing other sailors represent an extreme breach of that trust!"

(Senator Kirsten Gillibrand)
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has been very vocal when it comes to sexual assault and rape in the military and what should be done to help victims. After the Krusinski arrest, Gillibrand stated: "to say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement."
Gillibrand, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel, also stated: "The military has not been able to demonstrate that they have made a difference and they need to be held to the scrutiny and that standard this year because throughout the last year we have continued to see evidence of how much farther we have to go to solve sexual assault in the military.”
She believes no real chance will occur until control over sexual assault cases are removed from military commanding officers.
Despite the military fiercely stating that it has a “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, the 2015 SAPRO report showed that military leaders are not enforcing this very well. In fact, over 75 percent of men and women in the Armed Forces who have been sexually assaulted, have no faith in the military justice system to protect their rights and to prosecute those who have committed these crimes against them.
GOP proponents, such as Sen. Rand Paul, supports Gillibrand’s bill.
"If you were in a corporation you would not report to your boss -- you would go to the police," he said. "In the military, it's a little different but you still wouldn't want to go to your boss directly or you wouldn't want your boss to be making the decisions -- particularly if your boss was buddies with the perpetrator -- you would want people you don't know outside the chain of command."
Unfortunately, despite the support Gillibrand got from both Democrats and Republicans, her bill didn’t pass after it was opposed by the Pentagon in 2014. However, that defeat did not stop her from reintroducing the legislation again in 2016. This time her legislation to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command to military lawyers wasn’t even considered when the senate passed the defense bill.
(Senator Claire McCaskill)
Some politicians, like Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, believe it would be better to reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases. She stated that “reforming the military from within is the best path to change.” McCaskill went on to say: “It is time for our military leaders to reevaluate who is being put into these positions. Are folks filling these jobs who aren't succeeding elsewhere? Or are these jobs being given to our best leaders?"
Gillibrand disagrees with McCaskill because over the last few years her office has examined numerous files of sexual assault or rape in the military and the consensus is that the majority of cases never go to trial. Of the cases that do make it to court, roughly 10 percent of those accused of sexual assault will be convicted.
According to a Pentagon report, an estimated average of 70 sexual assaults are committed daily within the U.S. military, or 26,000 per year. This number is much higher considering roughly only 20% report their attack. What’s even more horrific than these numbers is the fact that there is a growing epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military where the accused is usually never held accountable for his actions or if he is convicted in several cases that ruling has been overturned.
This has happened in several cases, including one involving Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was accused of sexually assaulting Kimberly Hanks at the Aviano Air Base in Italy. Despite the fact that he was found guilty by a military jury, and sentenced to one year in jail and dismissal from military service, Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin overturned the conviction.

When President Obama was in office he stated: "I expect consequences. I don't just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this, they've got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, or dishonorably discharged. Period."
With the military being in existence for hundreds of years, the problem of military sexual misconduct is nothing new. However, now the public is being made more aware of what is exactly happening and how grave the problem actually is.
Senator Gillibrand has stated that “the problem can’t change until the military culture changes.” She vows to continue to fight for change.


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