Warning Shot on Assaults

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), June 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

Warning Shot on Assaults


Byline: The Register-Guard

Since the Navy's Tailhook scandal two decades ago, the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps have repeatedly promised to crack down on sexual assaults in the military.

The result has been a huge increase in sexual assaults in the military and, of course, more solemn pledges to address the problem.

Last month, the Defense Department released a study estimating that 26,000 sexual assault reports involving service members occurred in 2012 - 7,000 more than were recorded in 2011. That's a depressing figure, made even more so by the finding that only a small fraction of the assaults were reported - just 3,374 in 2012.

Such numbers explain why Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week that he is considering legislation that would give civilian prosecutors authority to file criminal charges against military personnel who commit sexual assaults both on- and off-base.

Leahy's warning was also prompted the astonishing cluelessness of military leaders who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. They, along with supporters in Congress, had the temerity to defend the military's existing system of handling sexual assaults - a system that thwarts prosecution and subjects victims to retaliation.

Worse, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted Wednesday at the urging of Pentagon brass to retain the existing system of military justice that permitsacommanding officers alone to decide whether sexual assault cases are prosecuted by military lawyers. That dimmed prospects for a proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would make much-needed changes in military justice. They included denying unit commanders long-standing authority to decide whether serious crimes such as sexual assault are prosecuted by military lawyers.

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