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Op-Ed
 

Nancy Parrish: Protect Our Defenders Calls Pentagon Sexual Assault Report Alarming


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By: Protect Our Defenders

WASHINGTON, DC, May 7, 2013 - Today, the Pentagon is releasing their annual report on sexual assault in the military and the numbers highlight a worsening epidemic. According to NBC News the U.S. military now estimates that there were more than 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults in 2012, up from the 19,000 they reported for 2011. Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish released the following statement:

What price is the military leadership willing to make the troops pay to protect the status quo and avoid fundamentally addressing this crisis?

The alarming rise in the number of sexual assaults (19,000 to 26,000) clearly demonstrates the crisis is getting worse — more people are being assaulted. The large number of anonymous and restricted reports shows a lack of faith in military justice.

Our service members – our fellow Americans – are living and working in a dysfunctional military culture. Victims of sexual assault seldom receive justice and frequently receive retribution if they report. They deserve better, our country deserves better. The patience and deference the Commander in Chief and Congress have shown the military, regarding this crisis, has come at a great cost to our service men and women.

The Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh has told Congress: 'I'm not an expert in this…I don't know how to fix it but I won't quit working on it.'

When will our elected leaders who created the Uniform Military Code of Justice finally take responsibility and a cue from our allies and take the reporting, investigation and adjudication of sexual assault out of the chain of command and end this national disgrace?

Only after fundamental legislative reform will military leaders be held accountable. Today, if a commander chooses to ignore a victim trying to report, refuses to move forward with an investigation, reduces a charge, lessens a sentence or sets aside a conviction, regardless of how egregious the offense or how strong the evidence, there is little recourse and no penalty for the commander.

Based on early DoD reports, we know that over 50% of victims report the perpetrator was of higher rank and at least 23% of victims report the perpetrator was in their chain of command.

For more than 25 years, Americans have seen a cycle of scandal after scandal regarding sexual abuse within our military. Cover-ups and abuse of authority have come to light, often due to brave service members risking their careers and well being to come forward – but nothing changes. There was Tailhook in 1992, Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996, the Air Force Academy in 2002, the ongoing largest military sexual abuse scandal in history at Lackland Air Force Base, the recent Aviano scandal and now the head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention program has been arrested and charged with sexual battery.

The odds are if this alleged attack had happened on base, the country would never have seen Lt. Col. Krusinski's mug shot, showing reported scratches by the victim fighting off the attack. If it was even reported the victim would, in all likelihood, have been disbelieved and retaliated against. Today's military is a target rich, low risk hunting ground for sexual predators.

The Pentagon is responsible for failing to effectively govern its personnel. The problems are so long standing and pervasive that, at a minimum, it constitutes gross negligence on the part of the leadership and actually reflects, albeit informal, countenancing of a culture of violent abuse.

The reporting, investigation and adjudication of sexual assault must be taken out of the chain of command.

Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization. We honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members. We seek to fix the military training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence and harassment — systems that often re-victimize assault survivors by blaming them while failing to prosecute perpetrators. www.protectourdefenders.org

 

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