Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Armed Forces Sexual Assault Crisis Reaches New Heights

Ahead of possible major actions from the Pentagon and Congress on sexual assault in the military, the U.S. Army is forced to confront yet another instance of a member of the armed forces involved in a shocking sexual assault scandal.

In the latest incident, the Department of Defense revealed on Tuesday a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army stationed at the Ft. Hood, TX military base is under investigation for sexual assault. Along with allegedly sexually assaulting two of his peers, the the sergeant is being investigated for possibly forcing a subordinate into prostitution. Making matters even worse, the soldier under investigation was assigned as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program coordinator for an eight-hundred person battalion stationed at the base.

The investigation draws a parallel to a case just last week in which the head of the entire Air Force’s sexual assault response program was himself charged with sexual battery in Arlington, VA. No charges have yet been filed against the individual at Ft. Hood, but Pentagon spokesman George Little issued a statement about DOD’s response to yet another alleged instance of rape culture in the military:

I cannot convey strongly enough [Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's] frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.

Secretary Hagel met with Army Secretary McHugh this morning and directed him to fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations, and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.

To address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events, Secretary Hagel is directing all the services to re-train, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.

Lawmakers quickly lined up to add their voices to the long list of those condemning the latest outrage and sexual assault in the military writ large. “These allegations only add to the mounting evidence of the need to change our military justice system to better hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors of sexual assault,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said in a statement. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) head of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement he was “outraged and disgusted” by the latest reports from Ft. Hood, pointing to his own granddaughter in the Army and the “feelings of worry and doubt” many feel when family members join the service.

Much as last week’s case came just days ahead of the Pentagon releasing its annual report on sexual assault in the armed services, Tuesday’s story broke with major implications for the military on the horizon. Wednesday is the deadline for branches of the armed services to provide their plans for how to integrate women into combat units to the Pentagon. Last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters that the move could help reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military in the long-run as “the more we treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally.”

The Senate Veteran Affairs Committee is also holding hearings Wednesday morning on the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, which passed the House Veteran Affairs Committee last week. The Act is named for a former Navy enlistee who was raped twice during her service and later developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience. According to the ACLU’s statement to the Senate, the bill “would remove current barriers that far too often prove insurmountable for sexual assault survivors who apply for disability compensation for post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.”

According to the most recent report, an estimated 26,000 instances of sexual assault took place in the military last year. President Obama at a press conference last week called the epidemic “an outrage” and said soldiers who rape are “betraying the uniform that they’re wearing.” “When you engage in this kind of behavior that’s not patriotic — it’s a crime,” Obama went on to say. “And we have to do everything we can to root this out.”

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