By Debbie Gregory.
In a scathing critique of the Defense Department’s efforts to curb sexual assaults, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has accused the Pentagon of covering up some sexual assaults by underreporting many of the cases. Most of these cases involve civilian women living near bases, and non-military spouses of service members. Gillibrand, an outspoken critic of the military’s leniency in regards to sexual assault, continues to champion the cause of the victims.
Gillibrand’s request for the case files followed a February, 2014 AP investigation into the U.S. military’s handling of sexual assault cases that occurred in Japan. These instances revealed a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments.
To determine whether the same thing was happening at bases in the United States, Gillibrand asked then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for the case files of sexual assault cases that were investigated and adjudicated from 2009 to 2014. These instances took place at the Fort Hood, Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Marine Corps Camp Pendleton in California and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
When Gillibrand’s staff examined these sexual assault casess at the military’s four largest bases, they found that 107 of the sexual assault punishments were too lenient, with the word of the alleged assailant believed more often than that of the victim. Less than 25% of the cases went to trial, with only eleven cases ending in a conviction for the sex crime. In more than 50% of the cases, female civilians were the victims.
Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the department does not have authority to include civilians in its surveys.
To prevent the fox from guarding the henhouse, so to speak, Gillibrand has backed legislation that would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest with seasoned military attorneys who have prosecutorial experience. The Pentagon is opposed to the change.
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Military Connection: Under-reported Sexual Assaults Go Unpunished: by Debbie Gregory