WASHINGTON – About a month ago, President Obama’s most trusted adviser, Valerie Jarrett, brought Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and some other senators to the White House to hear their views on curbing sexual assault in the military.
Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has a bill that would mirror other nations’ programs to end this running sore, not just bandage it. Gillibrand’s bill, as in Britain, Canada, Israel and Germany, would have experienced uniformed – but independent – military prosecutors handle complaints.
Currently, these radioactive charges have to clear the “chain of command” to be taken seriously. They almost never are. To those of us who actually served in uniform, the existing old boys process draws snickers.
Despite Jarrett’s huddle with the senators, Obama chose to look the other way.
And so last week, the generals and the admirals, and their friends in the military-industrial complex, had their way with Gillibrand’s bipartisan bill – not behind some darkened motor pool garage but on cable television.
At the markup for the defense authorization bill, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., maneuvered to ditch Gillibrand’s bill in favor of enhanced status quo.
The excuse offered by Levin, and echoed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is that Gillibrand’s process would be an affront to good order and discipline. Pretty lame in view of the statistics, which already paint a portrait of worsening chaos in the ranks.
According to Defense Department numbers on Hagel’s desk, there are three cases of sexual harassment, or forcible rape, or non-consensual sodomy occurring in America’s military every hour. This is an increase of nearly 22 percent in a year, or 36 percent over two years.
Put a pretty face on it and say there are three cases of grand larceny in the military every hour, or that three sets of officers and enlisted personnel exchange punches every hour and your vaunted military discipline is in tatters.
This sexist culture starts not just in the barracks. It is enshrined in the country’s military academies. Reports of sexual assault at Annapolis, West Point and the Air Force Academy were up 60 percent in 2012. Of the mere 65 cases investigated at the academies, one resulted in a military conviction.
The Army Times recently reported on a General Accountability Office survey that showed 41 percent of the troops said that even if sexual harassment was reported, the perpetrator would be able to get away with it. And only 11 percent of the cases are reported, according to DoD’s own studies. Forty-seven percent of the women experiencing unwanted sexual contact feared retaliation if they did complain officially.
According to a San Antonio Express enquiry, 90 percent of the cases that were reported resulted in the complainant being involuntarily discharged. A special grease pit behind the mess hall for those who wouldn’t put up with uniformed felony.
Even after Democrat Levin and most of his party colleagues on the committee essentially voted to sanction sexual assault, other Democrats were still charging that the Republicans are waging a war on women. If congressional Republicans weren’t brain dead, they would grab this issue and run with it.
Locally, Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, do not support Gillibrand’s bill. They back legislation similar to Levin’s enhanced chain-of-command approach.
It is not too late for Obama to get aboard. He desperately needs a reform issue to ride. The president who prompted the joint chiefs to back an end to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should support Gillibrand now. She will offer her remedy as a floor amendment when the Senate votes on the defense authorization bill in the next few weeks.