Monday, May 13, 2013

Sexual Assaults Still Pervasive In Military Despite - Victims Fear Retaliation

Lieutenant Elle Helmer at the Vietnam War Memorial, is featured in "The Invisible War". (James Helmer/PBS)
With its huge numbers of  military personnel, the Hampton Roads region of Virginia ought to be concerned about the reports of pervasive instances of sexual assault that are taking place within the U. S. military.  (Unless, of course one takes the approach of the City of Norfolk city fathers and just close one's eyes to lawlessness - at least until something really bad happens).  Men and women serving in our military should not be allowed to undergo assaults and be concerned that they have no recourse.  Yet the system is obviously failing them.  Indeed, the number of unreported assaults is increasing apparently because victims (i) feel nothing will be done and (ii) fear that they will experience retaliation if the report the offenses.  One thing that seems clear is that leaving the military to police itself isn't working and perhaps its time that investigations and trials of those accused of assault be moved outside of the military.  It is also telling that most of the assaults are being committed by heterosexual males.   An article in The Daily Beast looks at this horrific situation.  Here are excerpts:

The film, which will be broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens, is a searing examination of military sexual assault, an issue so endemic within the armed forces that a female soldier is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than she is to be killed in combat. Its television premiere comes just as the problem has been receiving more attention from the media and politicians—all the way up to President Obama himself—than perhaps ever before.

It started last Sunday, with the arrest of Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention program, on charges of sexual battery after he allegedly groped a woman in a Washington, DC, parking lot. Two days later, the Department of Defense released its annual report on sexual assaults within the ranks, announcing that there were nearly 3,400 reported incidents of sexual assault in 2012 alone, up six percent from 2011. But the report also included the results of a survey—conducted every two years—which found that the actual number of assaults was far greater: an estimated 26,000, up from 19,000 in 2010.

Congressional outrage doesn’t necessarily result in real change—at least, it hasn’t in the past. “I don’t want to appear jaded,” she [Jackie Speier, a Democratic Congresswoman from California] said on Friday, “But going up against the military-industrial complex is not an easy task.” She cited a pattern that extends back decades, where high-profile scandals like those surrounding the Tailhook convention in 1991, the Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996, and, more recently, at Lackland Air Force Base, prompt alarm, followed by Congressional hearings, and, inevitably, promises to enforce a “zero tolerance policy” from the military’s top brass. Yet despite countless pledges to root out the problem once and for all, sexual assaults, according to the Pentagon’s own figures, only continue to escalate.

[T]he percentage of those who chose to report their assaults dropped by some 30 percent—hardly a sign of confidence in the existing system.  The explanation for that, according to many, is a simple one. The report—which this year clocks in at 1,494 pages—found that 62 percent of victims who did report their assaults faced retaliation as a result.

Stories of retaliation, and re-victimization, are ones that director Kirby Dick and his producer Amy Ziering heard repeatedly as they were making The Invisible War. “Every single person that we spoke to, whether they reported it or not, they were all advised by their peers not to report,” Dick says. “Basically you’re risking your career to report.”

Cynthia Smith, a spokeswoman for the DoD, called the film outdated, citing the efforts that Panetta, and now Hagel, have made to address the issue—including a directive to establish Special victims units in each of the branches, and, most recently, the appointment of nine people to a new “Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel,” which in July will begin an independent review of the system.

But skeptics fear that such measures will amount to little more than just another set of empty promises. And as for the notion that the film is no longer relevant, Dick’s response was unequivocal. “They’re right, it is outdated,” he said. “The number of sexual assaults has gone up 35 percent since I finished making the film. They’ve lost this invisible war very, very badly.”

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