Handling Sexual Assault in the Military
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced new policies for investigating sexual assualt in the military today. Advocacy groups are rejoicing since reforms have been needed for quite some time. Many offenses such as rape go unpunished and unreported, and there is no end to sources that report abuse and retaliation against victims who do report. According to Jezebel, “the changes come in the wake of reports that the military has tried to cover up incidents of sexual assault by diagnosing alleged victims with psychiatric disorders.” I wish I could say that this is news to me, but one of my classmates interviewed a servicewoman who was dismissed because of her PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder-not because of her assault, which was never investigated). In short, victims of sexual assault in the military are harshly silenced and ignored. Panetta is slowly bringing this issue to light-he is apparently developing a support network for victims along with major policy change. All sexual complaints will now be handled by senior officers rather than unit commanders. This move is expected to lead to more prosecutions. Other measures include the creation of special units to gather evidence and interview alleged victims as well as allowing National Guard and reserve troops who file complaints to remain on active duty while their cases are investigated (in order to ensure that their cases are not dropped). The most significant move from “local prosecution” to a more executive authorities is expected to change sexual assault statistics for the better, as the unit commanders are usually close to the accused perpetrators or are hesitant about launching an investigation in their unit. The New York Times reports that although the number of cases eligible for prosecution fell, more service members convicted of sexual assault are receiving punishment. Advocacy groups complain that many perpetrators are still permitted to remain in service, or to “resign in lieu of a courts-martial.” Here’s to hoping Panetta’s assertion to “send a signal that this is not a problem that we are going to ignore in the United States military” will lead to stronger and more effective legislation.