NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 20, 2013

Military fails in handling of sexual assaults

How is it possible that our nation’s most powerful military leaders — all men — found the gumption to tell Congress there’s nothing substantive to be done when 26,000 female enlistees were sexually assaulted last year?

All six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were hauled before the Senate Armed Forces Committee recently and senators from both parties were incredulous at the brass’s response — or, more correctly their lack thereof — to the issue.

Make no mistake, the way women are treated in our military is nothing short of a national disgrace. These women forego what their civilian friends and relatives enjoy and sign up to help defend our country.

For thousands of women last year, their reward wasn’t adulation or even common decency.

They were raped.

Worse still — as if being a victim of the most personally violating crime there is wasn’t bad enough — those brave few who summoned the courage to speak out against their attackers were in many cases subjected to the type of scorn and ridicule that should have been reserved for the rapist, not his victim.

In many cases the rape victims were drummed out of the military while their attacker kept his job.

The joint chiefs fell back on a military code of conduct that has made this problem not just possible but prevalent; they say we must preserve the chain of command.

An obvious question: Precisely what kind of control does this exalted chain of command exert if it allows soldiers to rape women without fear of reprisal?

Legislation proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would take control for prosecuting military sexual assaults away from commanding officers who too frequently look the other way in the name of “unit cohesion” and instead put it where it should be — under the authority of military prosecutors.

Military members are justifiably entitled to any number of perks and protections by the nature of their service. But a rapist is a rapist no matter what kind of uniform they’re wearing.

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