Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, an outspoken advocate for changing the military’s current protocols for prosecuting sexual assault, can now call Conservatives Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Chuck Grassley new, if unlikely, allies. They join her in pressuring the Pentagon to stop stonewalling on the Military Justice Improvement Act, which seeks to allow victims to go beyond a chain of command that has tended toward suppressing rather than reporting or prosecuting these crimes.
The Houston Chronicle reports that Senator Gillibrand’s proposal has met with “stiff resistance from the Pentagon brass and influential Senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.” Graham did himself no favors by defending his fellow Senator Saxby Chambliss, who last month blamed sexual assaults in the military on “raging hormones.” Chambliss stated:
“The young folks that are coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22-or-three. The hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.”
This kind of cluelessness does not help Republicans going forward, who continue by this behavior to be allied with the appalling comments of 2012 Senate candidate Todd Akin re “legitimate rape,” whether he is a party spokesperson or not.
While Chambliss also said “we simply can’t tolerate” sexual assaults, he seems clueless as to the culture that allows them to take place. Yet even Democrats Carl Levin and Claire McCaskill are backing legislation that does not go as far as what Gillibrand is proposing. They would rather leave the “chain of command” alone. To date, this approach has not worked on this issue. As Senator Gillibrand stated:
“The UK, Israel, Australia, Canada, Germany, all have removed serious crimes outside of the chain of command to create an objective military justice system that doesn’t have command influence affecting the outcome.”
“For the most part, these are violent crimes. There’s no confusion. Of the 3,300 cases that were actually reported, 70 percent were violent assaults and violent rapes, criminal conduct that is based on power and domination. These are not dates that have gone badly, these are not questions of whether she said yes, then no, then yes, then no. This is not an issue of hormones, as some of my colleagues have mentioned. These are violent crimes perpetrated by, often, predators who are recidivists, and these are crimes of domination and violence.”
“At the end of the day, commanders aren’t objective. Commanders may have different training, different perspectives. They may or may not want women in the armed forces. They may not understand what sexual assault is, or what constitutes rape. They may not agree, what is a rape or not a rape. But that shouldn’t be their judgment. It should be an objective, trained prosecutor who makes the decision about whether or not there is evidence to prosecute these crimes. That hopefully will instill more confidence in the system, that justice can be possible.”
Even freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz, was convinced:
“I think [Senator Gillibrand] made a powerful and effective argument that the lack of reporting is driven by a fear of not having an impartial third party outside the chain of command in which to report a sexual assault.”
Reports have also proven both male and female victims have ample reason to fear retaliation if they speak up.
Senator Rand Paul has gone on record as saying “there is no reason why Conservatives shouldn’t support” Gillibrand’s measure, which was contrary to puzzling comments by Senator Graham in defense of Senator Chambliss:
“I think what he was saying is you’ve got a lot of young people in the military and we just have be realistic. I don’t know where you were at 17 to 23. I don’t know how you were. But these are formative years. I know Saxby very well. Anybody knows Saxby is not suggesting that he’s justifying rape.”
Realistic? Formative years? Formative of what – behaving like predators? Sounds like “boys will be boys.” Surely that is not a concept he is asking us to condone.
…Graham said any sexual predators serving the military “need to be sought out and pounded, driven out of the service in such a fashion to deter others.”
To be pounded out of the service is not enough. A dishonorable discharge is not suitable punishment for rape unless you add a prison sentence.
Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer of Politico also reported that while Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno called the problem “a cancer,” in private, military brass, lawyers and advisers are exerting every piece of influence to shut Gillibrand down. They also noted that the Pentagon rarely loses on Capitol Hill.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, “Conveyance of a message that commanders cannot be trusted will only serve to undermine good order and discipline.” But whether or not the military will admit it, recent scandals have revealed that superiors have themselves been responsible for attacks, or, at the least, not reporting crimes of those in their units for fear of it reflecting badly on them and thus, damaging their own careers. They have even gone so far as overturning convictions of perpetrators – rendering themselves perpetrators as well.
As to General Dempsey’s concern, victims of sexual assault need to know they have recourse. Their superiors need to know it, too. Perhaps that would encourage them to properly report assaults to be investigated and prosecuted in the first place. Then going “outside the chain of command” would be rendered unnecessary and the discipline of which General Dempsey speaks would be more than starch in these cases. Discipline would apply equally to those in command and the victims of assault who rely upon them to get justice.
This problem has been well known for 25 years, yet assaults are increasing. Per James Dao of New York Times:
In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men. …
Though women, who represent about 15 percent of the force, are significantly more likely to be sexually assaulted in the military than men, experts say assaults against men have been vastly underreported. For that reason, the majority of formal complaints of military sexual assault have been filed by women, even though the majority of victims are thought to be men.
Arguments that increased assaults are the result of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ring false. Per Mr. Dao’s report, attackers identify as heterosexual males and most of the attacks on other men appear to be for the purpose of humiliation or are torture-motivated. And the attacks on women have been going on far too long to be the result of women now being allowed in active combat.
This violent culture affects both our women and men, reflecting a command failure. This scandal puts an unfair blight on the men and women who make so many sacrifices to serve their country honorably. It is not, however, a failure of military prosecutors, who by all accounts have done a solid job investigating the cases brought before them.
As to the pressure the Pentagon is placing on Congress to make only minimal changes in their structure to solve this cancer, the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect a different outcome. If the status quo has failed to properly address this issue in 25 years, what will ensure change now?
Does it not occur to the military brass that even by enacting legislation that threatens to remove the chain of command from the equation, superiors would be pressured to do their jobs – otherwise would they not be demoted or punished when it was revealed that they swept these crimes under the rug?
Whatever black eye the Pentagon fears, a lack of significant action such as the one Gillibrand proposes will only lead to more public outrage and more unprosecuted crime down the line. As she noted, decision makers tend to vote based upon who their advisers are. Once they speak with someone in the military who has experience with these issues, their views change entirely.
Despite the co-sponsorship of Senate Republicans Paul, Cruz and Grassley, among others, this stands a good chance of once again being squashed in the House. And even though this is an issue that affects both sexes, the impression continues going forward that Republicans are not friends to women. It is more accurate to say that having 80% men in Congress and a patriarchy in the military dictates the kind of legislation we see (or do not see) on this issue. This also, once again, offers fodder for both sides to politicize what should be bi-partisan, all but ensuring that no effective legislation with be passed. Our military personnel deserve better.
There is no excuse for half measures and when unlikely partnerships form, this sends a strong signal that the Pentagon and Congress might want to think better of continuing business as usual.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a “shocking, empowering exposé revealing the nasty truth of contemporary misogyny. This book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power.” — Marcia Pappas, NOW-NYS Pres.
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