Marine Corps Times
By Rick Maze
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday likened the military’s problems with sexual abuse and rape in the ranks to the Penn State scandal over a former football coach accused of molesting young boys.
The common thread, said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., is that a serious problem should not be used to tarnish an entire organization.
His comments came as the House was appointing a team of negotiators to work with the Senate to prepare a final compromise version of the defense bill. As part of that process, the House was considering a motion directing the negotiators to push for language in the final bill that strengthens sexual abuse prevention programs, which McKeon supports.
McKeon’s concerns about overstating the problem appear aimed at Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who has used the word “corrupt” when talking about the military investigations of sex crimes, said military justice is “an oxymoron” for rape and assault victims, and called sexual assault a “silent epidemic” in the ranks.
“This is a cancer that is eating up our military,” Speier said. “For 25 years, we have debated and discussed and reported on it, and yet the numbers are staggering. By DoD’s own estimates, 19,000 men and women in the military each and every year are sexually assaulted or raped. Only 13 percent actually report these sexual assaults and rapes, and 90 percent of them are involuntarily honorably discharged.”
“There is a message in the military: Shut up, take an aspirin, go to bed, sleep it off,” Speier said.
McKeon said Speier’s comments make it sound as if the entire military is to blame, and said she was “besmirching the character of the military.”
“I refuse to have the innuendo or the charge that the military is corrupt top to bottom, which is what you basically inferred in what you just said,” McKeon said.
McKeon referred, indirectly, the Penn State issue where a former assistant coach of the football powerhouse school has been accused of molesting boys, a scandal that has tarnished the school’s image. He said this was a “revered” coach in an “upstanding university that we all have thought great things about” but “has all kind of problems with sexual abuse.”
The military has problems, too, he said, but that does not mean the institution is bad.
Speier did not back down, saying the military is not doing enough. “My only point is that until we create an independent office to handle these cases, we continue to place the unit commanders and the base commanders in a conflict of interest. What happens when the unit commander is, in fact, the assailant? That means that the rape victim has to go to her rapist and seek to have help and to report that rape to her unit commander.”
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., sponsor of many of the sexual assault prevention provisions in the bill, said the Defense Department has been slow to change. “We would not be here discussing it today if there was still not a long way to go,” she said.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the plight facing sexual assault victims in the military is serious. “Imagine being a victim of rape, which one young soldier told me about at a hearing, while serving in the military, and every morning she had to salute her rapist. That’s what the members of our armed forces have experienced and will continue to experience if we don’t do something to change that situation,” Slaughter said.
In the end, the motion was not controversial, passing by a 421-2 vote, and congressional aides predicted that new rules covering evidence handling, the availability of legal aid and mental health counselors for victims and new rules allowing for the immediate transfer to a new duty station of a sexual assault victim are likely to be approved as part of a compromise defense bill.
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