In today's edition of "fuck everything; this world is an awful, dark place:" for the second time in as many weeks, a military official in charge of sexual assault prevention has been accused of sexual assault.
This case is completely sickening. A U.S. Army sergeant first class stationed at Fort Hood, Texas is currently being investigated for forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting two others. According to two senior Pentagon officials, he is also under investigation for running a prostitution ring. At the time the allegations came to light, he was in charge of coordinating his battalion's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program.
As if this case weren't unfathomably despicable enough, it comes just days after Jeff Krusinski, who was in charge of the sexual assault prevention program for the entire Air Force, was charged with sexual battery.
According to a statement released by the Dept. of Defense, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has been informed about the allegations:
I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.
Secretary Hagel met with Army Secretary McHugh this morning and directed him to fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations, and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.
To address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events, Secretary Hagel is directing all the services to re-train, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.
Will that be enough, though? At this point, it's difficult to argue that sexual assault in the military isn't an epidemic. According to the annual report released by the DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, 3,374 incidents of "unwanted sexual contact" occurred within the Armed Forces in the past year, which is a 6 percent increase from last year. Unreported incidents, however, have skyrocketed much more dramatically — according to an anonymous survey, 26,000 respondents say they were sexually assaulted in the military in the past year, compared to 19,000 last year.
The reason that these tens of thousands of sexual assault cases go unreported is that the victims fear retaliation or fallout. The military has a long history of covering up or ignoring abuse allegations — military officials have the tendency to be complacent/complicit in upholding standards of conduct; furthermore, commanders have the power to overturn guilty verdicts, which is obviously easy to abuse. Last week, President Obama emphasized the need for viable consequences as a means of combatting rape culture in the military:
I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable – prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.
Some lawmakers are arguing that even more must be done, and that military culture itself is to blame, as is the justice system that protects those who perpetrate sexual assault. Amazing hero woman Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), for instance, has stated that she intends to introduce new legislation on Thursday that will target the flawed military justice system "by removing chain-of-command influence from prosecution of sex abuse crimes." In addition, Sen. Carl Levin (MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, has said in a statement that his panel intends to make enact a number of measures to counter the problem, including making changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
It's terrible that it's taken this long to address such a blatant systemic wrong. In the words of Senator Levin, "the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report." Actually enforcing punishment for sexual assault and re-training all personell is a small first step to combatting misogynistic attitudes within the military, but a very necessary one nonetheless.
Image via AP