Whether you have seen the Oscar nominated documentary film called “The Invisible War,” I think most Americans are becoming aware of a terrible problem in our US military. Per a 2011 Newsweek article, it is more likely that a female soldier will be sexually assaulted by one of her fellow soldiers than killed in battle. And, to be complete, it is not just women who have been sexually assaulted. In 2011, there were 3,158 cases of sexual assaults reported. By the Pentagon’s own records, they report that there were over 19,000 such assaults that year. And, of those 3,158 cases, only 575 cases were processed. In 2012, the number reported increased to 3,574, a six percent increase with estimated total assaults pegged at 26,000.
The Senate Oversight committee led by Senator Carl Levin has helped pass requirements that make it in a crime for a supervisor in the chain of command to retaliate against a victim who has reported such a crime and would not allow the military command to overturn a conviction. This requirement was supported by Senator Claire McCaskill as well, who is a former prosecutor. Yet, they stopped short of stripping the oversight from the chain of command, per the recommendations of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Major General Gary Patton, the head of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office who opposed removing the chain of command oversight. In other words, the supervisor who may have permitted an environment of harassment to occur, would still have a strong say in whether a case is warranted.
An interesting mix of senators, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York feel that is inappropriate oversight. She has led a mix of fellow Democrat and Republican senators to propose that the JAG attorneys be responsible for sexual assault cases and take the oversight away from the chain of command. In their mind, the fact that so few cases are ever reported is a direct result of fear of retaliation, fear of destroying a career, fear of inappropriate but typical ridicule over the victim’s possible promiscuity, and just plain physical fear of being harmed. Gillibrand has pointed out that the chain of command oversight is part of the problem and should not be included as part of the solution. She notes that this issue has been identified as a concern since the late 1980s and we still have the numbers of sexual assaults, in total and that go unreported, we have today.
I agree with Senator Gillibrand. I have three comments in support of her group’s contention. First, having been in Human Resources, sexual assault cases (or any harassment cases) would definitely not be left to the chain of command with all other employers. The supervisor or manager may be part of the problem, so the alleged victim has an avenue to reach out to HR and the case will be (or it better be) handled with confidentiality and care. I have written earlier how organizations tend to take on the personality of its leaders. The leaders may have created an environment where sexual harassment may be more normative. I have also witnessed a protective turf mindset when sexual assaults or harassment claims occur. For obvious examples, you need look no further than Penn State University and the Jerry Sandusky issue or the Catholic Church, where leaders were both more interested in protecting the reputation of the entity and less about the victims.
Second, Albert Einstein, I believe said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting a different outcome.” It is obvious the chain of command oversight is part of the problem. They need to be part of the solution by doing things better, but they should not have oversight over sexual assault cases. There will be a tendency to brush over things and manage the issue rather than address it. If you do not believe me, reread the references to Penn State and the Catholic Church.
Third, having just written about my father, who served in the Korean War, he would be offended by the numbers of sexual assaults. And, when Senator John McCain, who is one of the most famous prisoners of war in Vietnam, says he would be hard pressed to recommend to a friend’s daughter that she go in the military, that speaks volumes. To me, it insults the honor of these men and women, to not address this issue.
Folks, we owe it to all women, but especially our female soldiers, to protect them from their fellow troops. To be brutally frank, this is a disgrace to our military and country. Men and women should be supported in their cause to risk their lives to serve our country. I understand the points made by Levin, McCaskill, Hagel, Dempsey and Patton, I just don’t agree with them. I applaud the steps they have recommended. Yet, we need to take this last major step proposed by Senator Gillibrand and do the right thing.