By JIM VINES
A female soldier is groped inside a barracks, another in a base supply room, a third on a shooting range. A sailor is molested by her defensive tactics instructor and a Marine lance corporal is raped by a gunnery sergeant, who’s also a recruiter.
These are examples of thousands of cases detailed in a searing 1,500-page report by the Pentagon on pervasive sexual abuse against women in the U.S. military. The report estimates a rate of about 500 women were assaulted per week in 2012. The scandal continues to unfold in an embarrassing public manner, each a new chapter confirming the report’s finding that the abusive culture is endemic.
The Army has revealed that Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, who was responsible for assault prevention at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation for allegedly forcing another soldier into prostitution and assaulting two others. He is the second sexual assault prevention officer in two weeks linked to abuse. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief sexual assault prevention officer for the Air Force, was arrested recently for allegedly groping a woman in an Arlington, Va., parking lot. Last week, investigations were conducted into whether Marines created a Facebook page portraying female Marines in vulgar and degrading photographs and comments. Commanders are still considering actions on the site being taken down.
If the Pentagon’s estimates are correct, more than 20,000 troops declined to report what happened to them last year. Nearly half the women feared retribution and being labeled a “troublemaker” if they reported their incidents. It’s a wonder, considering those available to help are some of the instigators causing the problems.
USA Today interviewed lawmakers, social scientists and people who have worked on the sexual assault issues inside the military to determine why the Pentagon hasn’t been able to stem this predatory tide. All information pointed to two factors; one a new plague, the other as old as the military itself. The plague is the proliferation of violence toward women in films and video games,which recruits are bringing in with them. The other, a military justice system with origins dating to the Revolutionary War that gives commanders of accused troops ultimate power over legal proceedings.
American military justice evolved during the past century to closely resemble proceedings in a federal courtroom, with prosecution, penitentiary standards, witness testimony and trial by jury before a trained judge. There is one glaring exception. The decision on whether charges should be brought, who sits on the jury and whether a conviction or punishment can stand is controlled buy a high-ranking officer who is the defendant’s superior. The officer is neither a lawyer or a judge, although he or she receives written advice from a military attorney.
Britain, Canada and other countries have moved away from this principle of commanding officer’s authority, but it lives on in the American military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice created by Congress. The military has proven that it is incapable of doing the job. Commanders reduce as many as a third of sexual abuse punishments. A commander’s authority is not entirely misplaced, but it can be abused. What commander wants his record to reflect this type of abuse on his watch?
Having the greatest military in the world, asking everything of them, to include dying for their country, the military shouldn’t be asked to subject itself to sexual assault and rape. If we allow the military to report outside the chain of command, allow that decision-making to be made by a prosecutor, not the commanding officer, justice will prevail more often.
Sadly, the sexual abuse of military women is happening at an alarming rate. Something needs to be done now, not later.
On Saturday, a book titled “WOMEN UNDER FIRE: Abuse in the Military,” was released. It is authored by Sarah L. Blum, a decorated Vietnam surgical nurse who served with the 25th Infantry Division in 1967 at the height of the war, saving lives at the 12th Evacuation Hospital located in Cu Chi, South Vietnam.
Sarah is an advocate for military women’s rights and is a practicing psychotherapist with more than 28 years experience working with PTSD and trauma resolution. Go to womenunderfire.net/aboutsarah, then link onto About Sarah/Women Underfire.
Starting on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, active duty or retired military members can walk into any U.S. Great Clips and get a free hair cut or pick up a free haircut card they can redeem through the end of 2013. This Great Clips promotion is called “Thank a Veteran.”
Speak to you again next week.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.