By Robert Schlesinger |
When I first spoke out about my assault in 1991, during the so-called "Tailhook scandal," I never imagined that I would still be repeating the same calls for reform today. It was more than two decades ago that I first spoke out about the culture of misogyny and impunity in our military. The crisis has only gotten worse.
The sexual assault epidemic persists because the justice system is not impartial, transparent or fair. Until our brave service members are afforded a justice system equal to the system afforded to the civilians they protect, this crisis will not end.
Protect Our Defenders hears daily from service members who have been dissuaded from reporting, retaliated against and harassed by their peers and their chain of command. Victims are often put through a grueling and humiliating justice process. Their credibility and motive is impeached. Their privacy is violated. Their rapists’ commander decides whether they will even have the possibility of justice.
No wonder 92 percent of victims choose not to come forward. Of those few who do, 62 percent of women report retaliation. More than 50 percent of victims believe that nothing will be done. All of this results from the structural failings of the military justice system.
The Military Justice Improvement Act takes the prosecutorial function out of the hands of inherently biased and untrained commanders and puts it into the hands of professional military prosecutors. A person’s boss should not be able to decide whether to prosecute. Our current system allows the accused commander to sweep the crimes under the rug, preventing transparency and accountability and accommodating predatory criminals.
This crisis comes at a huge cost to our country, our military’s readiness and our prestige around the world. It is unjust and inhuman to allow this archaic and biased system to persist. It is un-American.
This is about justice, fairness, and the right of those who protect our freedom to enjoy access to an independent and impartial system of justice, worthy of our nation.
Now is the time for a professional and objective system based on evidence and the rule of law. To suggest that our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters should be subjected to anything less is a slap in the face to those who serve our county.
The calls, from military leaders for more time, are really only more empty promises perpetuating the status quo. Now is the time for legislation enforcing accountability and unbiased prosecutorial outcomes against violent criminals who weaken our military.
No more excuses. No more delays. Congress must act. As a survivor,
who has waited more than 20 years for the military to live up to their
promise of zero tolerance, I urge Congress to stand with us and pass this
conservative and measured approach to fix a broken system.
About Paula Coughlin
is a retired lieutenant, helicopter pilot and U.S. Navy Member, and serves on the Board of Directors of Protect Our Defenders.
is a senator from New York and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
is a third year student at Yale Law School and a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
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.
is a psychiatrist and cofounder of Threshold GlobalWorks.
is the second ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and founder and cochair of the Women in the Military Caucus.
is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.