“Occupational hazard” is not a phrase that most would throw around when speaking on the subject of rape. And yet, this is a phrase often uttered in the presence of many women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their superiors in the U.S. Military. In the wake of recent resurgences of media coverage, many promises have already been made in regards to eradicating this horrifying issue once and for all. But are we truly any closer to finding a solution to the abuse within our ranks?
The exposure of instances of sexual abuse and assault in the U.S. Military is not a recent occurrence. The issue truly found its footing in the public eye in 1990, with the Tailhook Scandal, an incident in which dozens of women, and some men, were assaulted by Naval and Marine Corps officers at a convention in Las Vegas. This issue was exposed again, in 1996, with the Aberdeen Scandal, in which a dozen male Army officers were charged for sexually assaulting female trainees under their command. It was not until 2011 that this matter returned to the forefront, when more than 40 female trainees at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base accused 17 male instructors of committing various sexual crimes.
More recent headlines have painted an even bleaker picture for both previous and potential victims of these abuses in the military. In many reported cases, perpetrators were not only found to have evaded punishment for their transgressions, but were also found to have enjoyed promotions and medals after the fact.
The victims, however, continue to suffer, not only at the hands of their abusers, but also at the hands of the military’s judicial system. At best, when reporting incidents of abuse, many victims are faced with superiors that turn a blind eye and strongly suggest that they refrain from reporting the incident; At worst, they find themselves discharged from service on grounds of psychiatric instability. It is clear that the problems with these abuses are aggravated by this overall lack of faith in the military’s judicial system. By the Pentagon’s estimate, the vast majority of victims — 89 percent — do not report sex crimes.
While these facts are as startling as they are grim, the growing awareness of these issues is allowing room for more effective programs to be implemented in the fight against this shameful epidemic. Last year, the Pentagon responded to this issue by creating the Special Victims Counsel, or the SVC. This program provides an active duty Army attorney to act in the victim’s best interest throughout the course of legal proceedings that arise from allegations of sexual assault, at no cost to the victim.
Special Victims Counsel are chosen after an evaluation based on their military justice expertise, their maturity, and their judgment, and serve on this basis for no more than two years. Each attorney that is chosen then undergoes training to further qualify them to represent their victims.
While the Special Victims Counsel may not be the solution to the sexual abuse, it is a step in the right direction that could assist our military in constructing a more stable and just environment for the men and women that voluntarily choose to serve it.
Ciara is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.