Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sexual Assault in the Military

It’s no secret that sexual assault in the military is a growing problem in our country. With a Pentagon report from 2012 claiming that as many as 26,000 military members might have been victims of sexual assault last year, it is evident that something must be done.

Enter Senator Kirsten Gillibrand,  who previously was a member of the fight to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and is the current chairwoman of the Armed Services personnel subcommittee. Sen. Gillibrand has been leading the charge for changes to be made in the way that the military handles sexual assault. She disagrees with the recent Pentagon approved policy changes advocated by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and has instead proposed that military commanders should no longer be the ones in charge of deciding whether a case should go to trial following a reported sexual assault. Gillibrand believes that experienced military lawyers should handle these cases and that leaving commanders in charge of proceedings is a mistake. Sen. Gillibrand recently said, "The chain of command is really an impediment for solving it because it's resulting in underreporting, no transparency, no accountability. The crux of the issue is objectivity. They (victims) don't believe the commanders can be objective, that commanders either know the victim or know the perpetrator or have a reason to support the perpetrator, who is more senior, more decorated, gone on more missions than the victim."

Gillibrand has gathered the support of 44 senators from both parties and will not rest on this important issue. Her proposal was recently endorsed by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, and she continues to gather more and more support each day. Here at the MWPC we are pleased to see a hard-working female senator advocating for sexual assault victims!

Also in the news this week is the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio which posted a flyer dealing with its response to sexual assault. Under the title “Preventing Sexual Assault is Everyone’s Responsibility! Avoid Becoming a Victim,” the posted listed tips on how to avoid getting sexually assaulted. Some of tips were “socialize with people who share your values” and “trust your gut feelings.” Not only are these “tips” foolish, they place the blame with the victim and perpetuate the shameful feelings that many victims feel following an assault. Posters like these reinforce the false idea that victims are to blame for an assault that someone else makes against them.

Jennifer Stephens, an armed forces veteran and battalion commander in the Ohio National Guard who works on the base, felt that the message conveyed in the flyer would make victims feel less open about reporting sexual assault. She wrote a letter of her own and pasted it on top of the original poster. In her letter, Stephens detailed ways that victims could seek help after a sexual assault and condemned the author of the poster for perpetuating the rape culture that exists in the military. After tweeting the photo of her letter, Stephens is becoming a hero for standing up for assault victims.