Congress steps in to address sexual assault in US military

Every week has brought a new allegation. Today Brigadier General Bryan Roberts was suspended as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; he is accused of adultery and having a physical altercation. Before that an Army sergeant who worked as a sexual assault prevention coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas, was accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact and assault. And before that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, who was in charge of the Air Force sexual assault prevention effort, was charged with sexual battery for allegedly assaulting a woman in a parking lot in Virginia (Yahoo News).

All of these allegations come on the heels of the US Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) annual report, which showed a marked increase in sexual assaults within the US military. Between October of 2011 and September of 2012 sexual assaults within the US military occurred at a rate of over 70 per day, a 6 percent increase over the previous year. 26,000 service members reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact on an anonymous survey, although only 3,374 victims formally reported being assaulted. The reporting rate of just below 13 percent is lower than the national average, which is believed to be approximately 14 percent. In other words, 86 – 87 percent of all victims of sexual assault do not report the crime (SAPRO).

In response to these disturbing allegations and statistics, and all of the negative publicity they have generated, Congress is finally taking action. Last week Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), proposed legislation that would take responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the victim’s chain of command and put it in the hands of specialized prosecutors. Her proposal was followed by a House version of reform today, which includes additions to the annual defense policy bill that would impose tougher penalties on service members who commit sex crimes and would also ensure adequate treatment for victims. The House version, proposed by the Republican-led personnel panel of the House Armed Services Committee, does not advocate taking control of prosecution out of the victim’s chain of command (Yahoo News).

While legislative changes will certainly help, they won’t change the culture of misogyny that has been allowed to thrive within the US military. As Congress opened a debate on the legislative changes needed to address the flaws in the military system of justice, active duty members of the military took to Facebook to openly declare their hatred toward the female lawmakers pushing for change, reactivating a Facebook page that has existed in various forms for years. This time, they aimed their attack at Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA): “Before that page was taken down Friday afternoon by Facebook, Speier’s staff was able to confirm that several active-duty Marines had posted messages on the page, which disparaged the congresswoman and made numerous sexual jokes about women in the military. At least three people who had ‘liked’ the page — and who had posted comments there supporting its content — list themselves as active-duty service members on their personal Facebook pages. As of Friday morning, the page — called ‘F*** You Jackie Speier’ — was active and had 182 ‘likes'” (NBC News).

Unless military commanders begin to take misogyny seriously and address it with the same intensity used to tackle racism and homophobia, real change will remain elusive, and female service members will continue to face more danger from their colleagues than they face from any foreign enemy.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

Leave a Reply