Pentagon unveils measures to curtail sexual assaults. Stringent enough?
Under the new provisions, every victim of sexual assault in the military will be provided with special legal representation, and investigations of sexual assaults will be conducted by military lawyers, rather than less experienced personnel.
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Such incidents have drawn the ire of lawmakers, some of whom have proposed legislation to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether and how to proceed with a case – a measure that has broad bipartisan support in the Senate.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is not a Democratic idea. It is not a Republican idea. It is a good idea that meets the needs of the victims, creates transparency and accountability, and creates the needed objectivity that this issue deserves," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York said last month, while pointing out that Germany, Britain, and Israel already have adopted similar measures.
Senior US military officials have made it clear that they are stridently opposed to such changes in “command authority,” arguing that it would erode military discipline.
The measures announced Thursday are widely seen as the Pentagon’s bid to avert such legislation, and they include some measures that were already included in pending congressional bills.
In addition to legal representation, the measures also call for providing commanders with options to reassign or transfer those accused of sexual assault, rather than the moving the victims, as had been the policy.
“All of these measures will provide victims additional rights, protections, and legal support – and help ensure that sexual assault-related investigations and judicial proceedings are conducted thoroughly and professionally,” Secretary Hagel said.
The measures “serve as an important first step to ensuring the protection of victims, prosecution of those responsible, and prevention of future criminal acts,” said Rep. Michael Turner (R) of Ohio, while adding that there is “still much more work to be done.”
In time, the Pentagon may adopt other legislative proposals as well, said Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, who says that there is “merit in many” of them.
“Some of those that are out there we are still considering and working with them,” he told reporters during a Pentagon briefing Thursday afternoon.
The proposed steps elicited a qualified response from Senator Gillibrand. “The Pentagon taking action is a good thing and these are positive steps forward but it is not the leap forward required to solve the problem,” she said in a statement. “As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting” assaults.
Military victims advocacy groups had similar responses.
“While we support efforts that attack the status quo, these changes are mostly small tweaks to a broken system,” retired Navy JAG Taryn Meeks, executive director of the group Protect our Defenders, said in a statement.
While praising the plan to provide legal representation to victims of sexual assault, Ms Meeks added that the bulk of the changes “simply do not constitute fundamental reform and are not sufficient to address the crisis.”