Military sexual assault brought to light: Proposed bill addresses startling statistics of reported assaults among members of the US armed forces
In May, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Krusinki, the U.S. Air Force’s head sexual assault prevention officer, was himself arrested for sexual assault.
Drunk and stumbling across a parking lot, Krusinki grabbed a woman standing outside of a bar from behind. She confronted him and punched him several times in the face.
His crime is a shocking reminder of an issue that has been dismissed for too long.
According to the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, there were 3,374 reported sexual assaults in 2012, about a six percent increase from 2011.
However, the Pentagon estimates that a staggering 26,000 cases go unreported.
One of the reasons sexual assault crimes often go unreported in the military is for fear of possible retaliation.
Retaliation against the assaulted individual is more common in the military than anywhere else: it is common for sexual assault victims who come forward to be overlooked for a promotion or even dismissed from the military.
In particular, service members assaulted by their superiors are frequently threatened with dismissal: in 2012, the Army launched an investigation against 12 instructors for sexual assault against their trainees; in the same year, General Jeffery Sinclair was charged with assaulting one of his juniors, warning her that she would be fired if she attempted to press charges.
“Of [all] sexual assaults, 53 percent (approximately 14,000 in 2012) were attacks on men. A vast majority of perpetrators are men who identify themselves as heterosexual,” wrote Michael F. Matthews, who in 1974 was attacked and sodomized by three of his fellow Air Force members. “These facts are horrifying enough, but when institutions like the military, closed systems that lack oversight, do not validate the experience of the rape survivor, the perpetrators get to continue their criminal behavior without consequence.”
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the refusal of six states to grant military marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
It is disrespectful to the men and women who dedicate their lives to our country to deny them these benefits, I said, because to do so makes a mockery of their sacrifice and loyalty; to be denied the rights they were promised is unjustified.
In the same vein, they are also entitled to protection from a different kind of humiliation: by not letting its members feel as if they can safely report sexual assault, the miltary is violating their service members’ rights and devaluing their commitment.
A recent bill in Congress aims to end the problem.
Supported by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California), the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP) would overhaul how the military deals with sexual assault cases, establishing an office—staffed by both military members and civilians—that deals exclusively with the problem.
Normally, the way sexual assault cases are handled favors and puts the power in the hands of either the peers or the perpetrators of the crime, especially in the case of a superior and a subordinate.
Even when the accused is the same rank as the accuser, a victim can often be faulted for the crime due to the victim-blaming tendencies of military culture. The victim may be harassed or isolated, and their testimony discredited.
The bill takes cases out of the hands of a system that can be rife with corruption and cover-ups.
Although Speier’s bill will not end the prevalence of such crimes, it will impose harsher punishment on the perpetrators and end the idea that sexual assault goes unpunished. As an office that is unattached to other military matters, cases can be evaluated more fairly, without involving unsympathetic superiors.
“19,000 members of the military are sexually assaulted or raped every year. And of those only 13 percent report them,” Speier said. “I thought I had been taken back in time to the 60s because the excuses and the rationale were all the kinds of things being said in the 60s. ‘Oh well, she wore a provocative dress, and she was consenting to it.’”
Service members join the military to protect the country from those who would assault us; likewise, they deserve protection from those who would assault them.