Justice and fair treatment of military sexual assault and rape victims requires demanding more accountability among military leaders, criminalizing attempts to retaliate against victims for coming forward and directly tackling sexists attitudes, a new report from the Center for American Progress says.
The report, titled “Twice Betrayed,” reviews 25 years of efforts by the Defense Department to deal with serious sexual assault problems in the ranks that have gained more political attention as American culture has changed and as more women have entered the military.
Lawrence Korb, a coauthor of the report and a former Pentagon personnel official in the Reagan administration, said the problem “is not new and is not going away” without a major push that recognizes the potential damage to military effectiveness and harm to victims in the current process.
The report recommends changes to the military justice system that are similar to proposals being considered in Congress. For example, it says the character and military service record of the accused should be eliminated from consideration in deciding whether to pursue criminal charges and that the immediate chain of command should not have the power to reduce a sentence or modify a conviction to a lesser offense.
Fear of retaliation is one reason cited in DoD surveys by rape and sexual assault victims who don’t report the crime or decline to testify against an accuser, a fear that could be reduced if a specific criminal offense is added to the Uniform Code of Military Justice to punish anyone who retaliates against a sexual assault victim, the report says.
Also recommended is a wider strategy for changing attitudes about women, who make up 15 percent of the force but 46 percent of the victims of sexual assault. The report says a key change in this regard would be the elimination of the policy that restricts women from direct ground combat jobs, something the military is already working toward.
Korb said he is not certain these changes, especially removing or reducing the influence of the chain of command in criminal cases, will fully solve the problem, and that it might be necessary to instead handle sex crimes in civilian courts rather than in the military.