Stop Sexual Assault in the Military

By Hillary Scrivani, WLP Law Intern

When a woman signs up to serve her country in the U.S. military, she should expect to be honored and thanked for her service.  What she should not expect is to become part of the enormous group of women who are sexually assaulted in the military each year.  According to a survey released by the Pentagon, there has been a significant increase in the number of servicewomen who were sexually assaulted in 2012 from 2010.  The survey estimates that 6.1% of servicewomen were sexually assaulted in 2012, up from 4.4% in 2010.

This systematic atrocity that is taking place in the U.S. military has captured the attention of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing regarding these issues on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.  At the hearing, senators–including female senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Kay Hagan (D-NC)—questioned U.S. military chiefs about the military’s inadequate handling of sexual assault cases.

In response to this problem, Senator Gillibrand introduced a measure that would require the more serious assault prosecutions in the military to be taken out of the chain of military command.  However, many military leaders do not think that the decision to prosecute and the handling of these cases should be taken out of the military chain of command.  Many senators agree with this line of thinking, as the bill was recently rejected by the Senate Armed Services Committee. It is expected that Senator Gillibrand will attempt to revive her measure in the fall.

A bill written by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, which would require a review if the commanders entrusted with prosecuting sexual assault cases elect not to prosecute them, and would make retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault a crime.

Additionally, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday, June 14, 2013, that would “strip commanders of their authority to dismiss a finding by a court martial, establish minimum sentences for sexual assault convictions, permit victims of sexual assault to apply for a permanent change of station or unit transfer, and ensure that convicted offenders leave the military.”

The problem of sexual assault in the military, and the military’s poor handling of sexual assault cases, is not getting better: indeed, measured by survey released by the Pentagon, it is getting significantly worse. A bold new policy is needed to eradicate the culture that tolerates the sexual abuse of servicemen and servicewomen. There is no excuse for maintaining the status quo when the number of assaults of men and women who risk their lives to defend our country keeps increasing each year.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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