Chain of command

Every 21 minutes another member of the U.S. military is sexually assaulted according to the DOD’s 2012 report. Within the time most people take a shower or cook spaghetti, someone who is in the Armed Forces is being forced into a sexual act against their will. How many minutes need to pass before our government is willing to do something?

It has been almost one month since Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) did not pass in the Senate. One month or about 2,100 sexual assaults. On March 6th, 2014, the U.S. Senate had an opportunity to change the way the military handles sexual assault cases, but the Senate was just five votes shy of passing the MJIA. Why? Chain of command.

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What does chain of command have to do with rape? Well, since a majority of military sexual assault perpetrators are within the survivors’ chain of command or at least friends with the perpetrator, it has everything to do with it. The men and women who protect us are not protected themselves. The military let’s the people in the chain of command make the decision about whether or not to prosecute or court martial the perpetrator…with NO legal background. The Commanding Officer can IGNORE a legal prosecutor’s recommendations for going forward with and legal or judicial actions. The MJIA could have stripped the CO’s of this power but too many Senator’s are afraid that this action will affect the way the chain of command operates which is a sacred cow in the military. Apparently these Senators made the decision without the knowledge that several of our NATO allies have already made the change that Gillibrand is proposing…without ANY issues or loss of power for the Commanding Officer. Why is the U.S. so far behind change similar to what Great Britain, Canada, Australia, or Israel already implemented?

Gillibrand’s MJIA bill is formatted to change the way the military prosecutes crimes such as rape, assault, and harassment. It isn’t trying to change Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; it’s trying to change the way the people in power in the military respond to crimes of a civilian nature. Why should an assault survivor be forced to report an act to his or her immediate superior, often the very person who committed the act? Shouldn’t the survivor be given the right to justice? Why are the people who have the most to lose by being accused making the decision of whether or not to prosecute…against themselves? Would we ask a rapist to decide whether or not he or she should go to jail?

The lack of change happening within the military in response to the influx of sexual assault reports can only be indicative of how high up the ladder the perpetrators exist. Look at Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, the Army’s top sex crimes prosecutor, who is accused of sexually groping a female lawyer. Look at Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the former head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, who was accused of drunkenly grabbing a woman’s breast and buttocks? We should not stand for these injustices within our military. By passing the MJIA bill, we can make sure that these crimes do not get swept under the rug and justice can be served.

Hoffman is a first-year MSW student at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice with a focus on Veterans Mental Health Services, and a certified sexual violence advocate for Essex County, N.J. and women’s rights activist.