Three Congresswomen Are Serious About Stamping Out Sexual Abuse in the U.S. Military

The military's track record with handling cases of sexual assault has been less than sterling, which is an extremely understated way of saying that it has been a travesty that only seems to become more outrageous with each new allegation of abuse perpetrated, covered-up, and, for a time, forgotten. Three Democratic congresswomen serving on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, however, are putting pressure on all branches of the military to completely overhaul the way they cope with instances of sexual assault, which may include introducing a measure that would make it a crime for a military supervisor to know about sexual abuse and not report it.

U.S. Representatives Loretta Sanchez, Susan Davis, and Jackie Speier called for these sweeping reforms after visiting Lackland Air Force Base — the home of what may perhaps be the biggest sex scandal in military history — on Tuesday. Among the litany of changes these three lawmakers would like to see implemented on the double are stricter abuse reporting requirements, embedding sexual abuse counselors into the ranks of trainees, and teaching instructors that it's part of their sworn duty to prevent abuse within their ranks. Said Davis, "We must have enough in place institutionally for people to be able to see problems and dangers, and be able to act on them."

The Lackland scandal has so far seen five training instructors who have either been convicted or pled guilty to "charges stemming from improper sexual conduct." Three commanding officers have also either been relieved of duty or transferred since news of the scandal first broke in the summer of 2011. Though the Air Force reported last month that it had selected a woman, Colonel Deborah Liddick, to serve as the new commanding officer of basic training, Speier said she and her colleagues have "some reason to believe" that the scandal has deeper roots than the Air Force has so far admitted. They're calling on the Air Force to dig back 10 years into their records to uncover any earlier instances of abuse.

In April, faced with more news coverage of sexual assault within the military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the military would get more serious about stamping out abuse, starting with subjecting serious offenses such as rape and forcible sodomy to court-martial review. Davis went a step further on Tuesday, insisting that any instructor found guilty of sexually inappropriate behavior should be "removed from the military, period" (two of the five Lackland trainers have received court martials and jail sentences, but were allowed to remain in the military).

The reforms that Sanchez, Davis, and Speier have called for are ambitious and far-reaching, which means that, in a House still dominated by Republicans, they're going to have to win over at least a few of the saner conservatives to pass any new legislation.

Women lawmakers call for tough measures to combat sex abuse in the military [Reuters]