Yesterday the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress regarding the senior military leaders’ response (or lack thereof) to rising cases of sexual assault in the military. The answers provided were less than satisfactory to many Senators with one Republican Senator, Roy Blunt, calling the responses “stunningly bad.”
Senators from both parties pressed the leaders, at times using strong language, about why, decades after the full integration of women into the military, the problem seems to have worsened. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, recalled meeting with a woman whose daughter was considering entering the military if Mr. McCain, a former naval aviator, could offer his “unqualified support” of the choice. “I could not,” he said.
The Generals and Admirals conceded they had failed to properly ensure that those they had command over were acting appropriately, but did not support any substantive policy change. The issue is whether commanding officers should have sole authority over sexual assault issues in their units or whether there should be another avenue for victims to work through. The military believes diluting command authority is inappropriate.
“Making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work,” General Odierno said.
Among other measures that the committee is considering are those that would limit a military commander’s ability to change or dismiss a court-martial conviction for sexual assault, require dismissal or a dishonorable discharge for anyone in the military convicted of rape or sexual assault, and expand to all service branches an Air Force program that provides a special counsel to victims of sexual assault.
If there is one aspect of current policy that seems the least defensible it is a military commander’s ability to change or dismiss a court-martial conviction for sexual assault. This makes no sense. A court has adjudicated someone guilty of sexual assault and that should be the end of the story. The Joints Chiefs seem to have missed another important point concerning reforms. With sexual assault in the military now getting such visibility there is little doubt that if strong action is not taken women thinking about enlisting in the armed services will think twice. It’s bad enough to face the dangers of war let alone facing the dangers of being sexually assaulted while commanding officers look the other way.