Military leaders have been insisting for years that the military has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, but an independent commission has discovered the fairly obvious: There is actually “quite a lot of tolerance,” according to one of the officials conducting the study.
In response to the 2020 murder of Vanessa Guillen by a fellow soldier, the Biden administration appointed a special commission to finally look into findings that 20,500 service members had experienced some form of sexually assaulted, not counting those who didn’t report their assaults.
These horrific indicators would suggest that there is absolutely a massive sexual misconduct epidemic within the U.S. military, stemming from the assaults themselves as well as from the chain of command that enables these crimes and works to minimize them. But while the military has publicly claimed to be urgently addressing the problem, it seems very little has been done by way of reform.
The commission found there is a “near total lack of a prevention workforce” within the military to carry out programs to prevent harassment and assault, and to equip leaders and commanders to understand the climate for the people who serve under them. The report makes recommendations to focus on selecting, developing and evaluating commanders so that they “interrupt these behaviors” and speak out against harassment.
In addition to implementing workplace prevention training, the commission also recommends the exact thing survivors and victims advocates have been demanding for years: to stop allowing the military to decide on its own what happens to the people accused of assault and harassment.
Reforming this process would mean allowing independent judge advocates to make decisions about prosecuting these crimes rather than military commanders. But making these changes requires Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law that governs the entire US military, which the Pentagon has long resisted. President Biden, however, has made these reforms a priority, and is now calling for the military to swiftly implement the measures suggested by the commission:
“‘For as long as we have abhorred this scourge, the statistics and the stories have grown worse. We need concrete actions that fundamentally change the way we handle military sexual assault and that make it clear that these crimes will not be minimized or dismissed,” Biden said in a statement, saying his administration would work with Congress to implement the recommendations.”
Reports of sexual assault in the military have increased in 2020, according to the most recent statistics, while the military is prosecuting those assaults at just half the rate they were in 2013. It is estimated that one out of every 16 women serving in the U.S. military has been “groped, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted” by someone to whom she’s enlisted to serve alongside.