Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Editorial

News Opinion Editorial

Military sexual assaults: reforms not dead yet

Efforts to address the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military got a boost this week from unexpected quarters — the tea party wing of the Republican Party. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas said they support legislation offered by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that would take prosecution of such cases outside the military's chain of command.

That may be a controversial idea — limiting a commander's involvement in an investigation and prosecution of a soldier — but it's certainly not unprecedented among the world's elite fighting units. A similar strategy successfully decreased the number of sexual assaults taking place in the British, German and Israeli armed services.

Yet the idea has received strong opposition from the Pentagon and from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who last month rejected Senator Gillibrand's proposal. Opponents seem to believe that mere internal reforms, including stiffening the penalties for such behavior or offering greater whistle-blower protections, are an adequate response.

We think they're wrong and would point to the scale of the problem, as well as the military's promised reforms of years past. It's clear that something more robust than sensitivity training or a rewrite of a training manual is required to reverse a worsening crisis.

And a crisis is the best way to describe it. According to a survey released earlier this year, the number of assaults taking place in the U.S. military has risen sharply, from about 19,000 in 2010 to about 26,000 last year. Yet, according to the Department of Defense, only 3,374 sexual assaults were reported to authorities in 2012.

What's shocking is not simply the volume of crime but the lack of reporting by the victims, most of whom are women. It's obvious that many are fearful of the consequences of speaking up — and that's likely especially true if the assailant is someone of higher rank who is in position to retaliate. That's why it's essential that civilian authorities play a greater role.

The Senate bill should not be viewed as an attack on the active-duty military but an effort to save it from the criminal behavior that is not representative of the majority of service members. Sexual assaults are costing the U.S. armed services an estimated $3.6 billion per year, according to the RAND Corporation, which bases the number on the cost of medical and mental health services and other factors.

That someone like Senator Cruz — the darling of the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express and former senator Jim DeMint — would endorse a bill that also has strong backing from Barbara Boxer, one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats, demonstrates that it surely isn't a partisan issue. Opponents include Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has said he wants to change the military's culture but not its command structure.

Yet how can the Pentagon perpetuate the status quo when it's already been proven so ineffective? Recently, the department's inspector general reviewed 501 closed sexual assault cases since 2010 and found that 89 percent were not investigated sufficiently. In some cases, key evidence was not collected, interviews were not complete and the cases lacked a thorough crime scene investigation, according to the IG report released earlier this week. That should not inspire confidence in Congress or the Pentagon.

Such a record cries out for more professional standards — something that will be more likely achieved if such investigations are in the hands of the military's lawyers and not commanding officers who, in some cases, have overturned convictions.

Senator Gillibrand's bill remains a long shot. She has the backing of 33 senators so far but will need 51 to bring the measure to the floor, where it could be amended into the defense authorization bill scheduled to reach the full Senate as early as next week. The Pentagon is reported to be lobbying heavily for that not to happen.

Ultimately, this may come down to the Senate's new guard versus the old guard who are not inclined to challenge the military brass. On this common-sense issue, the nation's security interests require that we first keep our soldiers and sailors safe from sexual assault. That's unlikely to happen without the kind of shake-up mandated by the Gillibrand bill.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Rand Paul's paleo problem

    Rand Paul's paleo problem

    Rand Paul is the most interesting contender for the Republican nomination. And when I say interesting, I mean that in the broadest sense.

  • City jail probe widens

    City jail probe widens

    Our view: Additional indictments may be coming in the corruption scandal after alleged ringleader Tavon White tells investigators there were more prison employees engaged in smuggling contraband than the 13 already indicted

  • The endangered pollinators

    The endangered pollinators

    For those who visit the Maryland State Fair each year, the honey and wax exhibit is always a highlight. A busy hive of bees can be viewed through a plastic window, there's locally-produced honey and candles in a variety of shapes and sizes for sale, and members of the Maryland State Beekeepers...

  • Ready for Kindergarten?

    Ready for Kindergarten?

    Even Maryland's youngest students are feeling the effect of the state's switch to the more rigorous academic requirements of the Common Core standards. This week state officials reported that fewer than half the state's 4- and 5-year-olds are "fully ready" to succeed when they enter Kindergarten,...

  • Fewer assessment test [Poll]

    Fewer assessment test [Poll]

    Was it a good move for education leaders to cut back on reading and math assessment tests in Maryland schools?

  • When cheap laughs cost too much

    When cheap laughs cost too much

    Some people unfortunately think that the best way to respond to the intolerance of Muslim fanatics is to insult all Muslims.

  • The false god of politics

    The false god of politics

    If you visit Mount Olympus, you will see scores of crumbling statues to false gods once worshipped by ancient Greeks. The same is true in Rome, where statues of political gods, notably those named Caesar, lay in ruins.

  • We must redouble our efforts now that the Freddie Gray cameras are gone

    We must redouble our efforts now that the Freddie Gray cameras are gone

    When Baltimore burned during the recent uprising, there were news cameras everywhere to document the mayhem and rage. As pastor of the only church whose property was torched during the chaos — housing we were building to redress systemic inequities and to revitalize blighted communities was destroyed...

Comments
Loading

64°