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Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Assault action

It’s way past time for military and elected officials to address the growing epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

May 14, 2013

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Last week’s Pentagon report on sexual assaults in the military will be difficult to ignore.

Americans may have been aware that this was a growing problem in the U.S. military, but few probably would have guessed the extent of the epidemic the Pentagon described.

Despite various efforts to try to address the problem, the Pentagon, which certainly has no incentive to inflate these numbers, estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year. That’s only an estimate because the vast majority of these incidents go unreported. There were fewer than 3,400 reported incidents last year, the survey said, and nearly 800 of those reports came from people — men and women — who declined to file complaints against their alleged attackers. That means that only about one-tenth of the assaults the Pentagon thinks occurred last year were even pursued, let alone resulted in any meaningful punishment.

The numbers are shocking, but some of the individual stories that have come out in the last week are even more disturbing. There was the arrest, just days before the Pentagon report was released, of the Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention on, yes, assault charges after he allegedly groped a woman in a Virginia parking lot. There are at least two cases of military superior officers unilaterally reversing sexual assault convictions of people under their command — and an ongoing investigation of a report that 62 trainees were assaulted or were victims of improper conduct over a four-year period by 32 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. In addition, since the Pentagon report was released, many individuals have shared with various news outlets their experience with sexual assault in the military and the effect it had on both their personal lives and their careers.

The only good news in connection with this report is that it may finally have spurred the kind of attention this problem deserves among top military and elected officials. A variety of solutions are being discussed, including taking responsibility for dealing with sexual assault reports away from commanding officers and giving it to either military or civilian prosecutors. Even more important, however, may be a tough initiative to change a military culture that has hidden and, therefore, tacitly condoned the kind of behavior that now is coming to light.

Some observers have expressed concern that, now that this issue has captured their attention, elected U.S. officials may overreact or take ill-advised or hasty action to address the problem. That may be possible, but officials shouldn’t allow this problem to be put on the back burner. Do the math. Twenty-six thousand sexual assaults in one year; that’s 500 assaults every week. That simply can’t be allowed to continue.

Comments

George Lippencott 11 months, 1 week ago

I wonder why the LJW decided to do an editorial on this topic? Lawrence is not a hot bed of volunteers for our military. We have no bases here and the closest at Leavenworth is heavily skewed toward officers and civilians.

However since we decided to comment, do we know what we are commenting about or are we simply relying on the AP for data. The 26K cases of sexual assault per year is a statistical number reached by verbal sampling where the contributor is not identified. I wonder how much validity is in it? We all know that people tend to be more likely to embellish when there are no consequences.

About 4000 actual clases are reported. The argument is advanced that fear of retribution is responsible for the difference. The “chain of command” is so hostile to women that they forgo reporting. Let us examine that notion. A rape reported to the military police generates an actual report outside the individuals immediate chain of command. A victim can go to the chaplain and report – also outside the immediate chain. Many bases have councilors to whom a report can be made outside the immediate chain. There are other ways around the immediate chain.

The word immediate is important here as the “immediate” chain might include low level NCOs. Now all of the above list of people do report to a common leader well up the chain. Why would such a commander (generally a field grade officer with more than a decade of service and I might remind you increasingly a woman) risk their careers to suppress a rape charge where there is documented evidence of a report? Will their careers suffer? I do not believe there is any responsible evidence to support such a conclusion.

Perhaps the real problem is one common to the civilian world. Rape is unique in that it had a very strong “he said- she said” component. Absent physical or forensic support the “commander” is in the same position as as the local district attorney. In the civilian world many cases of rape go un-prosecuted because there is inadequate evidence to support a determination of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The same challenge applies to rape within the military setting. Does pulling such a challenging crime outside the “chain of command” actually solve anything or are both systems facing a very human challenge?

Now one has to wonder as to why we may be playing this issue up when the statistics and the reality have not changed much since we chose to put a significant distaff presence into the somewhat uncivilized environment of a combat area where many of the investigative capabilities available to the DA do not exist for the commander.

Are we starting another “war on woman” issue where for the purpose of politics we create a feel good solution for an intractable challenge that exacerbates many other issues? As a bonus in this case might we also lay low an institution frequently degraded by members of one of our political parties.

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md 11 months, 1 week ago

What do they expect? Throw a bunch of women and men in together and its bound to happen. Wrong - of course. Also there can be bitterness when women do not have to meet the same standerds in training -and they dont- ,also all the little perks given from the men. I know several people from west point and annapolis. They say that women cant meet the same standards as the men and it can causes bitterness. In some circumstances this can cause assault out of anger. Boot camp is easier in many ways now days. I think it is a combo of having coed boot camp and an all voluntary force. Combat troops are a male only group and boot camp is much more intense. These are some of the reason that lead to assault. The situation is intense enough. Now someone is saying stop it no matter what. This will cause witch hunts,lies, etc. etc. making a bad situation worse. People need to open eyes and see what this is doing to the military.

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Leslie Swearingen 11 months, 1 week ago

I would ask why a large number of men in the military think of the women under their command, whether in training or not, in such a way. Why can't these men think of these women as intelligent, committed personel? Why can't they see them as people to be trained to do a job or with which to work? What goes on in a man's mind that leads to these actions?

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Danimal 11 months, 1 week ago

I wouldn't say it's a growing problem, but a problem that's always existed and was rarely acknowledged in the past. DOD stats have shown for decades that around 30% of women service members will be sexually assaulted at some point in their careers. I think from what we know about sex crimes in general that we can assume that number is probably twice what's actually reported. This is another example of something that has been a problem for a long, long time finally being an issue because it's become a hot button issue in the media.

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