Yesterday's Civil Rights Commission Hearing Addressed Sexual Assault in All Branches of U.S. Military

Illustration for article titled Yesterday's Civil Rights Commission Hearing Addressed Sexual Assault in All Branches of U.S. Military

A briefing conducted by the Civil Rights Commission in D.C. on Friday and attended by representatives from each branch of the U.S. military, aimed to discuss the problem and prevention of sexual assault in the ranks, proved that change is at hand, but there's still a ways to go. Among the issues discussed were possible the re-investigation of old cases (thousands of victims had been honorably—or in some cases, dishonorably—discharged after filing their assault complaint), as well as the order instated in September to increase the rank of the officer designated to receive such complaints.

Present at the hearing was assault victim Jen McClendon, a former sonar operator for the Navy in the 1990s, who told her story in the documentary The Invisible War, nominated for an Academy Award this week: "[When] I was assaulted, I was either accused of being a slut, whore, lesbian, drunk or all of the above," she told War's director Kirby Dick, "then I was thrown out of the military with a personality disorder."

After the hearing, McLendon says that she is "cautiously optimistic" about the steps being taken to reduce the sexual assault rates, but she'll believe it when she sees it. "They've been thinking they had a grip on this every five years for the last 25 years. So although some very good answers were given today, I don't know that they have the same grip that they think they have."


And on the rank increase of the reporting officer, she raises a valid point: "Increasing the rank's not going to help. If you're a sexist at 05, you're still going to be a sexist at 06. Changing your rank doesn't fix that."

The level of manpower it would require to re-open all of the former assault investigations admittedly seems daunting. One big positive change would be the institution of an independent commission (unaffiliated with the military) to deal with all former and future military assault claims. A bill to that effect proposed by Rep. Jackie Spier (D-California), the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or the STOP Act, is currently stalled in committee, although it does currently have 133 co-sponsors.

'Survivor meets civil rights commission on military sexual assault with ‘cautious optimism' [The Raw Story'

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I saw The Invisible War, it was simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating. I left the cinema with a sense of despair that their efforts failed in the end. I'm glad to read something is being done after all.

What struck me particularly about the film was the seeming untouchability of the US army. There's a presumed holiness around it and it seems like people get shouted down for voicing any criticism. I hope an independent commission would help counter that when it comes to reporting rape.