On Friday, President Obama directed the military to make progress on its sexual assault epidemic. The president is giving the military one year to crack down on the rampant problem or face tougher reforms, according to the Associated Press.
“If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world,” Obama said in a statement obtained by the AP.
Obama said the military has “an urgent obligation” to punish perpetrators of sexual assault in the military and to support victims. During 2013, several cases of military sexual assault were made public, highlighting the environment of fear victims face when they are blamed or bullied into not reporting sexual assault.
Consecutive news stories emerged of cases of military sexual assault in which the perpetrators not only were not punished for their actions, but, in many cases, received promotions afterward.
In March, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to discuss the issue of rampant sexual assault in the military. Before the hearing this year, the subject had not been addressed in a decade.
2013 Military Sexual Assault Cases in the Media:
- The military faced public scrutiny as details emerged about the Lackland Air Force Base Scandal. In Nov. 2012, an inquiry into the scandal was released, detailing abuses by military training instructors who preyed on younger recruits. The inquiry found that 32 training instructors allegedly engaged in “inappropriate or coercive sexual relationships” with 59 recruits and airmen.
- Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in Nov. 2012, and was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force. But in March, his sentence was overturned by Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, and Wilkerson was returned to active duty.
- Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery for assaulting a woman in a parking lot. Krusinski was the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch.
- A Ft. Hood army sergeant first class was accused of abusive sexual contact, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates. Like Krusinski, the accused was part of the Ft. Hood sexual assault response team – the people who are supposed to help victims of sexual assault.
- In a rare Army court-martial, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair was accused of forcible sodomy, adultery, and inappropriate communications with female officers, among other charges. Sinclair allegedly engaged in a sordid affair with a subordinate officer – a relationship that turned violent on two occasions.
- A Navy lieutenant was accused of assaulting his 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. He has faced neither civil nor criminal charges, and has been promoted within the Navy, although social workers concluded that the allegations of sexual molestation were credible and placed the lieutenant’s name on the State Child Abuse and Neglect Registry.
Many victims have described an environment of fear in which they were dismissed and sometimes even threatened when they came forward to report their assault. “You’re stuck,” an Air Force veteran told a House oversight committee last January. “If you want a career, you don’t want to say anything because you get retaliated against.”
This spring, in part due to increasing public awareness of the problem, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced new Department of Defense sexual assault and prevention efforts, including eliminating the ability of a convening authority to change findings in courts martial, as was done in the Wilkerson case.
Now, President Obama says that he wants Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to report back to him on December 1 of next year, highlighting the improvements they’ve made on addressing and preventing sexual assault. The Pentagon estimates that 26,000 military members were victims of sexual assault in 2012.
On Thursday, the Senate passed a sweeping military bill, which includes measures to address the sexual assault epidemic.
The legislation would eliminate the ability of military commanders to overturn jury convictions, require that a military member convicted of sexual assault face dishonorable discharge or dismissal, eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial in rape and sexual assault cases, criminalize retaliation against victims of sexual assault, and provide victims with legal counsel, among other reforms.