Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sex Assault in the Military: Victims Need Trust, Care

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sex Assault in the Military: Victims Need Trust, Care

Article excerpt

In coming days, Congress will take up a range of bills aimed at reducing sexual misconduct in the American military. Each of the armed services knows it has a problem and is working hard at reforms of its own. The scope of the problem is indeed disturbing: In addition to recent high-profile sexual assault cases, the Pentagon says only a fraction of the 26,000 soldiers who experienced "unwanted sexual contact" last year reported it.

Most of the proposed remedies would make it easier to simply report sexual violence or harassment. Two-thirds of personnel who have reported sexual misconduct - both men and women - say they have experienced some form of retaliation. This climate of fear needs to be replaced with a climate of trust and the assurance of justice that will help raise reporting rates.

Any military relies on a high level of trust within combat units to be effective. In addition, civilian society looks to its military as a model of discipline and service to others, or what Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, calls the "spiritual health" of soldiers in their sacred duty to take care of each other and not prey on each other.

In addition, young people will shy away from joining the service if sexual predators are not prevented from joining the military or not weeded out swiftly within its ranks.

Perhaps the most affirmative reform would be an increase in the care for those who report a sex crime. The Air Force has a pilot program that provides legal and other counseling to victims. This advocacy for victims needs to be quickly expanded with the support from Congress.

Another proposed solution would take away the authority of a commander to decide whether to prosecute a sex crime. A few allies, such as Britain and Australia, have done this, but it is still unclear whether such a move might erode the unique necessity of a military to maintain a strong chain of command. And the Pentagon makes a case that commanders are the ones best suited to detect sexual violations and assess the need for a trial. …

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