The Opinion Shop
Jackie Speier is so disturbed by the numbers of rapes and sexual assaults in the U.S. military — and what is done about them — that the Hillsborough Democrat has given a dozen speeches on the floor of Congress, each time spotlighting a different rape victim. You can watch the speech she gave Nov. 17 above. In it she calls for creating an office outside of the Department of Defense to investigate and prosecute rapists and care for sexual assault victims, an action she says is needed to deliver justice, end abuse and protect our military readiness.
Rep. Speier has found that the rapes too often go unreported because the victims fear harassment, retribution and blacklisting that affects, if not ends, their military career.
She cites as a poster boy for the problem a 60-year-old Army officer, described by friendly witnesses at his courts-martial as “old Army.” The officer harassed his female reports in the interests of, as he said, boosting morale. The military convicted him on 14 counts. He will serve 90 days in jail and will retire with full benefits. He was not required to register as a sex offender.
Speier finds the military culture protects sexual predators. “The vast majority of men and women who have been sexually abused in the military have come to realize there is no justice in the military’s chain of command,” she said.
A Department of Defense survey revealed 19,000 rapes a year among the 1.4 million service members. “Of those, only 13 percent report because they know what happens — They get shoved out of the military, involuntarily honorably discharged for ‘personality disorder.’”
Starlyn Lara, Women Veteran Coordinator at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, said, “There is a critical need for improvement in all aspects of the way sexual assaults, rape and subsequent Military Sexual Trauma is handled within the military. The rates of military sexual trauma are inexcusable and the consequences for survivors have lifelong implications, including post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness and suicide.”
A list of Department of Defense survey respondents who said they had been raped broke down as: 55 percent women, 38 percent men, 7 percent remaining anonymous.
If the victim comes forward, he or she likely is further victimized by the chain of command system of military justice where the commanding officer gets to pick the prosecutor, the defense and the investigator. Only 8 percent of the rapes and assaults reported result in prosecution, as compared to 40 percent in the civilian justice system, Speier said.
The military has made changes in the past decade, including establishing a confidential hotline to support victims, investing in training and increasing prevention efforts, according to the Department of Defense.
“Sexual assault has no place in the Department of Defense — and it will not be tolerated. …,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently affirmed.
Tia Christopher, who was involuntarily honorably discharged for a personality disorder after she reported she was raped by a classmate at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey a decade ago, said the military has addressed the problem and made some positive strides. “I still don’t think rape is taken as a serious issue,” she added.
Congresswoman Speier has set up a website to tell the stories of the victims of sexual assault that she has spotlighted on the floor of Congress www.protectourdefenders.com.
The Chronicle supports Rep. Speier in her efforts to address the problem and change the military system. Read our editorial here.
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