Retired colonel on military sexual assault: 'God bless Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep' for raising issue

Retired colonel on military sexual assault: 'God bless Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep' for raising issue
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The former head of the Marines’ sexual assault prevention office lamented Thursday the Department of Defense's (DOD) response to the "Me Too" movement, saying it missed a chance to make progress on combating sexual assault and harassment.

“DOD, United States military’s the largest employer in the world,” retired Col. Scott Jensen told The Hill. “In this moment where we’re talking about culture and behavior across all aspects of society in the United States, we ought to be seeing DOD lead in a much more aggressive way, and I would encourage them to step up and say that, ‘We have a role to play here. We can help. We want to be part of the discussion.’ And I would encourage those other elements of society to keep the pressure up on the military.

“God bless Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep on last Sunday night at the Golden Globes. They included the military in their list of where things need to be fixed. Prior to that, the military wasn’t being included in this discussion with Me Too.”

Jensen, who headed the Marines’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office from 2014 until his retirement from the military in 2016, announced this week that he is the new chief executive officer for advocacy group Protect Our Defenders and spoke with The Hill on Thursday about his new role.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon offered support to protesters who were demanding a culture change at the department in light of the Me Too movement in which waves of women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against prominent men in Hollywood, politics, journalism and other fields.

“No one should have to tolerate harassment as part of their military service," Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters after the rally Monday.

Added Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway: “We encourage service members to report all instances of sexual assault so we can provide support services and hold offenders accountable. Treating all military and civilian members with dignity and respect is a core principle of the DOD.”

On Thursday, Jensen dismissed the Pentagon’s response as just talk.

“I was there; I didn’t see anybody,” he said. “They brought us hot chocolate at the end, which was nice, but it sure would have been nice to have an official come out and invite us in, talk to somebody.”

Jensen said rank-and-file members of the military can’t be expected to come forward about their abuse like those outside the military and that Pentagon officials should have taken the opportunity of the Me Too movement to lead on the issue.

“How powerful would it have been in the last two months if the Pentagon, if senior leaders in the Pentagon without scandal, without some breaking story had stood up and said we want to be part of this,” he said. “I would love for those young men and women who are suffering from harassment and assault to be willing to speak up, but they’ve got too much to lose, and they’ve already demonstrated through their responses in surveys and everything else that they don’t trust the system. So to ask them to stand up like we’re seeing others in Hollywood and elsewhere I think is a bridge too far because of the trust factor.”

During Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony, Winfrey gave a much-lauded speech about racial injustice and sexual harassment, including against “our soldiers in the military.” The speech has sparked speculation about Winfrey’s presidential aspirations.

“I have no way of knowing whether that would be good or bad,” Jensen said with a chuckle of Winfrey as president, “but she’s saying the right things when it comes to supporting the military and military improvement.”