Debate Club

The Military Can Handle a Change in Sexual Assault Protocol

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Our society’s history of emergent cultural change over the past 70 years, informed by military experience, provides reason for optimism as well as enduring civilian oversight.

Vigilance and oversight, in that no institution blocks change so consistently as the military; confidence and optimism, in that no institution on earth tackles change, when directed to do so, as successfully as the U.S. military.

The current issue under debate is whether military commanders or independent military legal prosecutors should exercise decision authority to prosecute felony crimes punishable by over one year confinement.

[See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

Last June, the military brass lined up its formidable presence on Capitol Hill and voiced its unanimous opposition to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s, D-N.Y., proposed legislation requiring the Department of Defense  to transfer command decision authority to a trained independent legal professional, asserting that such action would undermine good order and discipline. Remarkably, this argument mirrors military opposition to change over the past three generations with respect to racial parity, gender integration and relational equality. It is a matter of history that, in all three domains, pessimistic forecasts portending catastrophic impact were simply wrong.

In the intervening months, 54 Senators have pledged their bipartisan support for the Gillibrand bill, including Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Whether an additional six Senators come forward to thwart a potential filibuster is yet unknown. What is certain is that this issue will not go away.

In short, should trained independent assessment of evidence guide the decision to prosecute serious felony crimes such as rape or should this decision remain with unit commanders whose position of authority with respect to the accused and/or the accuser represents a fixed conflict of interest, whether actual or perceived.?

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Here are a few voices to consider:

“A judge advocate outside the chain of command will be looking at a case through a different lens than a military commander. I believe the impact would be decisions based on evidence rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline.”   

        
-- Jo Ann Rooney (Undersecretary of the Navy)

“Having someone within your direct chain of command handling the case, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s like your brother raping you and having your Dad decide the case.”


-- Sarah Plummer (Marine veteran and survivor of military rape)

“District Attorneys and Attorney Generals don’t have to get permission from Mayors or Governors to prosecute cases because they’re independent. At the felony level, military Judge Advocates should be independent too.”

-- Patrick Murphy (Army Judge Advocate General officer deployed to Iraq in 2003-4 and former Congressman)

“We need to look at fundamental change in the military justice system itself.”


-- Jeh Johnson (former Pentagon General Counsel 2009-2012)

“It’s a little bit like when we opened up {to} gays in military in the late ‘80s. There was a lot of concern at that time that there would be issues. But not surprisingly, there haven’t been any.”

-- Paul Cronan (Director-General, Australian Defence Force Legal Service)

“Everything about this proposal {Gillibrand bill} takes military needs into account, except for the fact that military leaders don’t like change.”

-- Diane H. Mazur (former Air Force officer and law professor)

And a few additional perspectives:

  1. According to the Rand Corporation, the annual bill for covering the medical, mental health and “intangible costs” of military sexual trauma is estimated at $3.6 billion dollars.
  2. According to the Department of Defense, 50 percent of female military sexual trauma survivors did not report the crime because they believed nothing would be done. Of those who have reported unwanted sexual contact, 62 percent say they have already been retaliated against by their chain of command.
  3. According to the San Antonio Express, a survey of 1200 service members who sought help since 2003 at the Military Rape Crisis Center revealed that 90 percent of victims who reported sexual assault were involuntarily discharged and diagnosed with mental disorders. This retaliatory mobbing tactic is simply unconscionable for its extreme destructive impact on individuals and systems.

In summary, it is clear that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his service secretaries and chiefs have plenty of work to do. Given the relentless outbreaks of fraud, deceit, misconduct and myriad other dishonorable actions exposed in recent weeks and months, it would seem that the Gillibrand bill would present a timely opportunity to pivot towards building a culture of good order and discipline supported by evidence and characterized by justice for both the accused and the accuser.

With all due respect, sirs: Stop blocking, start tackling! 

Loree Sutton

About Loree Sutton is a psychiatrist and cofounder of Threshold GlobalWorks.

Tags
military
sexual assault
Congress

Other Arguments

#1
331 Pts
Sen. Gillibrand: The Deck Is Stacked Against Sexual Assault Victims

Yes – Sen. Gillibrand: The Deck Is Stacked Against Sexual Assault Victims

Kirsten Gillibrand is a senator from New York and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

#2
230 Pts
The Gillibrand Bill Will Allow Assault Victims to Come Forward

Yes – The Gillibrand Bill Will Allow Assault Victims to Come Forward

Chelsea Kelly is a third year student at Yale Law School and a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

#3
218 Pts
Sexual Assault Victims Have Waited Too Long for Justice

Yes – Sexual Assault Victims Have Waited Too Long for Justice

Paula Coughlin is a retired lieutenant, helicopter pilot and U.S. Navy Member, and serves on the Board of Directors of Protect Our Defenders.

#4
182 Pts
Give Members of the Military Access to the Justice They Deserve

Yes – Give Members of the Military Access to the Justice They Deserve

Lory Manning is the Service Women’s Action Network’s senior policy fellow and served as Commanding Officer of the Naval Telecommunications Station, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. 

#6
-106 Pts
Rep. Loretta Sanchez: Hold Commanders Accountable for Sexual Assaults

No – Rep. Loretta Sanchez: Hold Commanders Accountable for Sexual Assaults

Loretta Sanchez  is the second ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and founder and cochair of the Women in the Military Caucus.

#7
-145 Pts
Removing Commanders From the Justice Process Is Too Extreme

No – Removing Commanders From the Justice Process Is Too Extreme

Mai Fernandez is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

#8
-197 Pts
Sen. McCaskill: In Curbing Sexual Assaults, the Policy Matters

No – Sen. McCaskill: In Curbing Sexual Assaults, the Policy Matters

Claire McCaskill is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

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