Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been one of the most vocal and valiant critics of the way the military has responded to the epidemic of sexual assault. Gillibrand had put forth a proposal, which had 27 co-sponsors, including 4 Republicans, to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command and place them in hands of an independent prosecutor. Gillibrand succinctly explained the problem inherent in leaving the decision making power within the chain of command: “When any single victim of sexual assault is forced to salute her attacker, clearly our system is broken.”
Lest you think Gillibrand is some civilian utopionist, out of touch with the gritty realities of military life, you should know that SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network) also supports taking the handling of sexual assault crimes out of the chain of command, since,
“Apart from compromising impartiality, the current system places victims at risk of retaliation by vesting authority in a figure who often exercises control over the career advancement of both parties. By approaching criminal justice from a personnel perspective, this policy promotes widespread fear of reprisal, creating a significant barrier to reporting… SWAN proposes that the United States military move the administration of criminal justice from commanding officers to professional prosecutors and judges.”
Not surprisingly, the military hierarchy (read, men) opposes this reform. Of course, the military’s utterly insufficient handling of rape and sexual assault endemic in its ranks is a symptom of its very resistance to change. But in an inspiring example of “with Democrats like this, who needs Republicans,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) removed Gillibrand’s proposal from the Defense Authorization Act late Tuesday night. Levin replaced it with a watered down proposal that requires senior military officers to review decisions when commanders refuse to prosecute a case.
Laura Clawson sums it up nicely in her Daily Kos post entitled, “Old white man decides to leave military sexual assault decisions in the hands of old white men”
Basically, the old white men in charge of the military said “trust us, we’ll start taking sexual assault seriously and we’ll make it stop even though we’ve done neither to date” and the old white man in charge of the Senate Armed Services Committee said “sounds good to me. How about if we make a cosmetic change that leaves you guys still completely in charge but pretends to add accountability?” In other words:
“They basically embrace the status quo here,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, a co-sponsor of Ms. Gillibrand’s bill. “It’s outrageous.”
Just to review, in May, a Pentagon report revealed that the number of service personnel who made an anonymous claim that they were sexually assaulted but never reported the attack went from 19,000 in FY11 to 26,000 in FY12. And a day before that report was released, it was revealed that the Air Force’s sexual-abuse prevention chief has himself been charged with sexual assault. And last week, a lawyer for a female midshipman who accused three U.S. Naval Academy football players of raping her last year said her client was actually disciplined for drinking. Her attackers, however, went unpunished. What has to happen before the military realizes it needs to make the very changes it is uncomfortable making?