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It’s time for the military to clean up its record on sexual assaults.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
When patriotic Americans remember their debt to the nation’s war dead on Monday, Memorial Day, they should remember that women are counted among them.
They are not so many in number as men. But despite a ban on women in combat units, lifted just this year, some always have died in war — at least 147, thus far, in Iraq and Afghanistan — and many more have been wounded, physically and mentally.
To the nation’s shame, some of the emotional scars survivors bear have been inflicted by sexual assaults committed by supposed comrades, even commanders — each a betrayal by the people women in service most need to be able to trust.
Top brass have said for years that sexual assault will not be tolerated in the military, as the problem grew. After a string of embarrassing disclosures, Congress has set about working on civilian intervention through legislation — a last resort, evidently needed.
This month, the Defense Department issued its Annual Report on Sexual Assault for fiscal year 2012, the ninth year data has been compiled. The number of reports rose by 6 percent from the year before; 26,000 members of the military — both men and women — said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact. Only 3,374 cases had been reported, though; fewer than 13 percent.
Both numbers are damning evidence that the Pentagon’s stated policy of “zero tolerance” has not made its way through the ranks to become part of military culture.
Reluctance to report assaults is itself a barrier, the head of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, noted when he announced the report’s findings. Yet victims cannot be blamed.
Just days earlier, the head of the Air Force SAPRO had been arrested on allegations of sexual assault against a woman.
Together, Rep. Michael Turner told a reporter, the two occurrences beg the question, “Is this irony, or just reflective of a significant cultural issue?” The Ohio Republican is co-chairman of the House Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.
Then last week, Army officials revealed that a sergeant was accused of videotaping female cadets without their consent, sometimes when they were undressed in the bathroom or shower, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In the Senate, where an unprecedented seven women sit on the Armed Services Committee, confidence is high that some kind of legislative remedy will pass. In the House Armed Services Committee, where the Defense authorization bill now sits, a subcommittee passed a provision last week that would strip military commanders of authority to overturn guilty verdicts by juries, as happened in a couple of recent sexual assault cases.
While legislation is a long way from passage and its final form uncertain, the Pentagon, Congress and White House all agree the military’s record is disgraceful. President Obama called it “dangerous to our national security.”
After much hand-wringing, it’s time to let the money talk.
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