Sexual assault in military: Pentagon report, scandal deal a double blow (+video)
Even as the Pentagon prepared to report a dramatic increase in sexual assaults in the military, the officer in charge of the Air Force prevention program was alleged to have groped a woman.
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“This is absolutely infuriating,” said Greg Jacob, policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network, in a statement.Skip to next paragraph
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“Clearly the business-as-usual manner in which the military handles sexual assault cases has led to a climate where the very officers in charge of preventing this criminal activity feel that sexual assault is acceptable behavior,” he said. “The military has proven time and again that the current system of prosecuting these cases is broken.”
That fact is readily apparent to many within the military, who have begun to advocate for some changes to the prosecution process from within.
In January, the Air Force launched a pilot program to provide free legal counsel to victims of sexual assault within the service.
In the past, though Air Force prosecutors may have taken on an assault case, “They were responsible for representing the interests of the service, not the interests of the victim,” according to a senior Air Force official.
Combing through the last year of sexual assault statistics, Air Force officials found that nearly one third of victims who agreed to participate in the prosecution of their alleged offender changed their mind before the trial, and decided not to cooperate with the prosecution.
“I believe had these victims been represented by their own attorney, many of them would not have declined to cooperate and hold the alleged offender accountable,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, judge advocate general for the US Air Force, at a panel hosted by the US Commission on Civil Rights in January.
Sixty Air Force lawyers with experience prosecuting sexual assault cases are currently participating part-time in the pilot program, which is slated to grow to 20 to 30 Air Force lawyers who will focus on the program full-time in June.
In the meantime, the nation’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, has announced changes in reviews of officers, in the wake of both sexual and financial scandals.
This will include integrating the reviews of subordinates as well as supervisors in the evaluation of US military officers – what is known in the halls of the Pentagon as the “360 degree” review, a controversial prospect that some have worried aloud may undermine the traditional hierarchical structure of the military.
More than half of all victims of sexual assault within the US military report that the perpetrator was of higher rank, and nearly one quarter report that the perpetrator was in their chain of command.