The Beginning of WWIII
The Battle Against Sexual Assault, Led by…
The United States have fought in some major military conflicts that have shaped the world we live in today. New weapons were made, technology has improved, new leaders emerged; yet, America and its civilians face a new war that will be just as challenging to fight. The battle I am referring to is the epidemic of sexual assaults cases within the six U.S military branches. This will be a difficult fight because this involves U.S military commanders to be responsible for protecting their soldiers. Together, the United States Federal Government and civilians MUST CONFRONT the sexual assault epidemic on a scale never before scene in United States history. I have read many accounts of sexual assaults, and I have written about a few individuals who were sexually assaulted within the United States military, such as: Jane Doe, Diane Chamberlain; and of stories similar to General Robert Shadley, who as commanding officer attempted to bring positive changes to the war against sexual assault. As I celebrated the 95th Anniversary of Veteran’s Day this past November, I thought about how many of these military heroes were sexually assaulted and how many never sought the necessary help. There has been a lack of education, accountability, and responsibility throughout the armed forces, Congress, and President’s administration, and I believe the sexual assault statistics speak for themselves. How many sought help and were pushed to the side? Below I discuss how the United States government is currently giving victims hope as they attempt to end this terrible crisis, which has become rampant throughout our armed forces.
In the current process, if a military soldier or personnel is sexually assaulted the cases are independently investigated, but commanders make the final decision on whether to prosecute; meaning, if the commanders do not believe there is enough evidence, they can dismiss the case. The assailant is free to continue his/her service in the military while the victim is forced to deal with the physical and mental problems. Most of the time the victim is still forced to work in the same squad as the assailant. Recently, there has been a cry for change because people like Iowa Senator GOP Ernst, wants the entire process to be independent of the chain of command, where victims can go above their commander. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2014/05/05/sexual-assault-in-the-military-by-the-numbers/). This is considered a radical change because now soldiers who are sexually assaulted can go above their superiors. By revoking this privilege from commanders, former military and legal advisors warn this will harm the legitimacy of their command (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/sexual-assault-in-the-military-understanding-the-problem-and-how-to-fix-it).
Most commanders of armed forces are able leaders who do prosecute sexual assault assailants through the current military justice system, but the system has failed to address the entire situation, leaving the victims of sexual assault feeling helpless. The most common reasons as to why the military judicial system has failed is the lack of evidence, favoritism towards men and women with medals and rank, or the victims refuse to take their assailant through the necessary legal means. In response to a question regarding sexual assault, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey admits bias in a system that is “a little too forgiving” — May, 17 2013:“You might argue that we have become a little too forgiving because, if a perpetrator shows up at a court-martial with a rack of ribbons and has four deployments and a Purple Heart, there is certainly the risk that we might be a little too forgiving of that particular crime.”
When these issues cannot be solved within a particular branch or base, the Pentagon and Department of Defense will take it upon themselves to discharge the commander in control; by discharging these commanders, the government believes they are taking the necessary steps to combat sexual assault. Yet, often times, these commanders are following protocol and are taking the necessary steps but because of the negative media stories, the Pentagon and Department of Defense believe it is necessary to discharge these commanders to improve public relations about this subject. Someone has to take the fall, right?
A similar situation occurred to former one-star U.S Army General Robert Shadley. On May 1, 1996, Major General Shadley received his first notification of a sexual assault case reported under the command of COL Webb. The report involved sexual misconduct involving drill sergeants and noncommissioned officer instructors with female trainee students. From there it appeared the floodgates of sexual assault and harassment cases began to overwhelm his desk. General Shadley opened an investigation and discovered a game his Drill Sergeants liked to play with new cadets; it was called the “game”. The game’s objective for Drill Sergeants is to sleep with the newly arrived cadets using their rank. He ultimately contacted his higher commanders to notify them of the incident and how he was addressing the issue. The story eventually went public and because of the negative backlash the Army received through the media, General Shadley was forced to retire. A perfect example of how the military are not responsibly holding the necessary people accountable for their lack of action.
Charles Stimson, a manager for National Security Law Program and Senior Legal fellow, agrees with the need for changing the current system to decrease sexual assaults and to increase reporting but disagrees with Senator Ernst and potential Congressional reforms. He claims the military has made huge strides with regards to addressing the issue of sexual assault, including mandatory general military training for all personnel, specific training for select individuals, and many more specific programs aimed at the uniformed military lawyers responsible for prosecuting and defending sexual assault charges. When the public cries for the military judicial system to be like the civilian judicial system, Stimson claims, “the military justice system is a well-developed, unique, and integrated criminal justice system which handles thousands of criminal cases per year, ranging from minor violations to major felonies. It’s not perfect, but neither is the civilian justice system, which has many flaws and must be continually improved (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/sexual-assault-in-the-military-understanding-the-problem-and-how-to-fix-it#_ftnref123).”
Congress believes the answer to addressing sexual assaults throughout the armed forces is to remove their power to convene courts-martial. Commanders believe this would undermine their ability to enforce good order and discipline across the armed forces. Military Judge Advocate like Stimson agrees with the commander’s view of Congress’ policy on how this policy would undermine a commander’s ability to command accordingly. Stimson believes preventing commanders from discipline his platoon or squadron would harm his effectiveness especially when his platoon or squadron was away from base on a mission. When lawfully engaged in armed conflict, commanders are look upon with respect and authority to issue their soldiers to kill a threat. Stimson draws a comparison if a soldier had killed an innocent civilian, the commander wouldn’t have the necessary authority to condemn and punish his own soldiers. Stimson believes commanders’ losing their ability to convene court martial applies on the battle lines, as well as, in legal cases of sexual assault.
Below, I will describe several different proposals the House, Senate, and Executive branches are proposing to pass in order to increase sexual assault reporting, increase the role and support from military commanders, and to change the military judicial system so the system is more transparent for all parties involved. These three factors are critical in changing the culture of the military, and more importantly in giving victims the opportunity to seek judicial justice and therapy.
In 2005, the Department of Defense created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SPARO) to report on, and respond to, the problem of sexual assault in the military (http://sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY14_POTUS/FY14_DoD_Report_to_POTUS_SAPRO_Report.pdf). In 2013, SPARO issued a report based on a survey on the status of sexual assault in the military. Contact can be defined as intentional sexual contact that is against a person’s will or which occurred when the person could not consent. Both legislative and executive branches have proposed numerous reforms, which is a great example of the commitment our government has to our armed forces. Reforming military legislation pertaining to sexual assault needs to be critically evaluated to ensure commanders do not lose their power and influence over their squads and platoons, but the new reforms also need to ensure every member of the military has the opportunity to seek help and damages done upon them by their assailant. This issue has become similar to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Both issues are similar because in both instances the military attempted to keep the issues hidden from the public by condemning the victims and keeping them silent. As the United States culture began to change, and the more involved media outlets became in these pressing issues, that is when CHANGE FINALLY OCCURRED!
On December 20, 2013, President Obama made a statement regarding eliminating sexual assault in the armed forces. President Obama has directed Secretary Hagel, Chairman Dempsey and their supporting staffs to respond with more veracity in preventing sexual assault throughout the military (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/20/statement-president-eliminating-sexual-assault-armed-forces). President Obama has commended the Pentagon leadership for their diligent work in initiating reforms with the military justice system, improving and expanding prevention programs, and enhancing support for victims (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/20/statement-president-eliminating-sexual-assault-armed-forces). According to the press release of his statement, President Obama has given Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey until December 1, 2014, to report back to the President to analyze the progress and if additional reforms will be required to eliminate this epidemic throughout the armed forces. The leadership by President Obama is monumental in ensuring this problem is addressed in an orderly-timed fashion.
By direction of the President, the Department of Defense created a 118-page document describing their protocols in addressing sexual assault. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted, “We know that last change begins by changing the behaviors that lead to sexual assault (http://sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY14_POTUS/FY14_DoD_Report_to_POTUS_SAPRO_Report.pdf).” This quote may seem minuscule, yet this is exactly what the military needs in order to eventually eliminating sexual assault throughout the armed forces. Change begins through education and this is exactly what this document is doing. By educating our soldiers who will become our future military leaders, the Department of Defense is recognizing the need to change the behaviors that lead to sexual assault. These behaviors may appear minor but overtime, behaviors become muscle memory which will trigger their mind to think and act in a responsible and noble actions.
The Department of Defense (DoD) strategy focuses upon proactive and multi-disciplinary approach in order to achieve Department-wide unity of effort and purpose on sexual assault prevention. Below, I listed the five points included in the DoD’s document.
- Prevention: focused elements at multiple levels to prevent the crime
2. Investigation: competent investigations to yield timely and accurate results
3. Accountability: offenders held appropriately accountable
4. Advocacy/Victim Assistance: First- class victim services and care provided
5. Assessment: qualitative and quantitative measures to inform programs/policies
(http://sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY14_POTUS/FY14_DoD_Report_to_POTUS_SAPRO_Report.pdf). Reading their report is refreshing because the DoD evaluated the necessary steps to ensure this problem WILL ACTUALLY END. Through their program, victims are finally able to believe the DoD has a solution on how to correctly address this problem like a war; through strategic and comprehensive thought, evaluation, and partnerships and collaborations.
The DoD understands the necessary changes and continues to enact changes such as the Special Victims Counsel. Establishing this counsel will provide independent, personalized legal advice and representation to victims of sexual assault, protecting their rights and empowering them to successfully navigate the military system (http://sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY14_POTUS/FY14_DoD_Report_to_POTUS_SAPRO_Report.pdf). By enacting these changes, sexual assault victims’ chances of winning their military judicial cases will greatly improve.
Change enacted by the DoD will be more beneficial then change enacted by the House or Senate because military commanders of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are lead by the DoD. They understand the important traditions of the military and the important role commanders play in discipline and leadership. They then can enact change without disrupting the traditional military order. This argument has been the cause of most concern by military leaders because tradition is an important aspect of the armed forces. It is something every current and former soldier can understand, and in some cases, it is the reason as to why people joined in the first place.
The first proposal is Section 531 of the House to limit a commander’s power under UCMJ to change the findings of a court-martial or overturn convictions, a power they currently have under the law (http://www.caaflog.com/wp-content/uploads/FY14-NDAA-MilJus-Provisions-Explanatory-Statement.pdf). By limited the power of the commanders to overturn convictions, the victim’s voice is never heard and her assailant can continue to fight right beside the sexual assault victim. The victims will then have to endure working in the same platoon or squadron with her assailant. This can be very traumatic for the victim that could lead to more psychological problems. This has been a very delicate issue because like I mentioned above, commanders do not want their powers hampered by Congress. By decreasing their military responsibilities in this field, this will also limit how they will be able to handle other cases of misconduct on the battlefield and etc.
In the House-passed revision to Article 60, a commander may set aside a finding of guilty or change a finding of guilty to a lesser, included offense only for qualified offences. Reading dense legislation can be thick with political terminology, so I referenced Stimson’s interpretation of the bill. Essentially, this proposal brings more transparency to the system, so if a commander does not make use of his Article 60 powers, the commander must put a reason in writing for why he/she decided to decrease punishment following court-martial; which then becomes apart of the sexual assault trial (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/sexual-assault-in-the-military-understanding-the-problem-and-how-to-fix-it#_ftnref123). Even though this may appear like a commander is protecting a criminal, in the past, commanders were not required to list a reason as to why they would decrease a punishment. This brilliant legislative work goes back to my overall theme of holding military personal accountable for their actions. This also is relevant to the DoD’s goal of changing the behavior of the military to prevent the behaviors that often lead to sexual assault; since commanders in today’s current military now cannot turn a blind eye to sexual assault. They will be forced to combat the issue and follow necessary protocol.
To ensure commanders are conducting organizational climate assessments as part of the policy for the DoD sexual assault prevention and response programs, this provision requires the Secretary of Defense to direct service secretaries to verify and track the commanders (http://www.caaflog.com/wp-content/uploads/FY14-NDAA-MilJus-Provisions-Explanatory-Statement.pdf). This is an enormous victory for victims because finally their superiors are holding commanders accountable. In cases that need to be handled with care and diligence, this is perhaps the greatest step the House and Senate have made in addressing sexual assaults. The examples I provided are just a few of the major changes the House and Senate have made to combat this epidemic. Finally, victims of sexual assault can have a sense of hope the legislative representatives they voted for are finally working for the victims.
The Beginning of the End
Sexual assaults have been detrimental to the face of the military for decades. The military has never been diligent about addressing sexual assaults until it has blown-up in their face. For example the Tailhook Scandal in 1991, the Aberdeen Scandal in 1996, and the U.S Air Force Academy Scandal in 2003, are three situations in which the military waited to address sexual assault until after these events occurred. The few changes they had made following these scandals were minimal in addressing the real issues and concerns of sexual assault. This war will not be won with one specific legislative bill or only through the DoD involvement, but through education, change of military judicial policies, and leaders. The House, Senate, and the President’s Administration are finally holding assailants responsible and more importantly are finally aiding sexual assault victims with their ever-lasting healing process. The response is late but hopefully these current actions will provide hope for our victims.
After reading several books of military heroes and sexual assault victims SHOUTING FOR CHANGE, the outcry is finally being heard thanks to the continued efforts of these brave men and women. They could have chosen to sit in silence and bottled up their emotions but as AMERICANS, that just isn’t their style. The decided to write books, appear in interviews, create focus groups, and harassed their legislative representatives.
This battle is not over but is just beginning. As Americans we as a NATION, need to dig in our heels and continue to fight for our soldiers who had fought so adamantly for our freedoms.
“The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”