By Victoria Sanders:
What if you knew of a job where 1 out of 10 men and 1 out of 4 women are sexually assaulted or raped annually? Would you apply?
Every two years the Department of Defense takes a survey of active duty service members, asking questions about sexual assault. These surveys show us that men are 52% of the victims but recently the Defense Departments annual Sexual Assault and Response Program Office (SARPO) reported to Congress and the President that sexual assaults on military men and women have actually increased by 11% since 2013. However, the study does not include family members, husbands, wives and children, on base civilian workers or sex workers found outside the gates of every military base and port around the world. What we have found is that rape is not a woman’s issue or a man’s issue, but a Human rights issue.
The largest part of the problem is with the military justice system, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) especially where rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are concerned and not only does the UCMJ cover military members, it can also cover any civilian, on or off base, including family members if the offender is a member of the military. If a crime is committed by a military member, especially if it happens on an American base. Since local police are not allowed on a military base unless they have been asked, they are usually glad to hand jurisdiction to the military.
Last year Senator Gillibrand of New York took a sample survey of 4 bases and what she found was shocking. The numbers showed that 53% of reported cases were not service member on service member but military members on civilian workers, spouses, children and even sex workers. Children who are the most vulnerable, are the least likely to come forward. Spouses have to make a very difficult choices between justice and keeping a roof over their heads because they know that the Commanding Officer has a working relationship with their spouse and usually have little or no knowledge of the family. Civilian workers often have to return to work in what often becomes a hostile environment. There are well documented cases of sex workers being murdered. There is also a case from 2014 of a sexual assault prevention officer convicted of pimping out young service women.
We think of justice in our country as blind, but the military has a completely different system, with different priorities. They have wars to fight, so they call on the Commanding Officers to settle disputes within his or her command, whether it be missing ice cream or a rape. The commanders have to wear a lot of hats but they are not lawyers, nor do they have years of experience conducting legal investigations or overseeing military trials.
Until last year a service member could be convicted in a court-martial by a jury of their peers and a commander farther up the chain of command could throw out the whole case. This happened several years ago when a pilot was convicted of sexually assaulting a civilian worker while she was staying at his home. The conviction was then over thrown further up the chain of command by his friend who stated that he was a good family man and didn’t deserve to be punished for his crimes.
Senator Gillibrand has been working to change the system for investigating serious crimes such as sexual assault and place them in a specialized court that has the experience and resources to investigate and oversee a military trial. Her bill is called the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). You would think commanders would be happy to not have to consider all the complex parts of investigation and adjudication of these crimes but they are fighting to keep the status quo.
Now that you understand the problem I hope you will join us and sign this petition to tell Congress that victims need to be heard. As a military wife I was attacked but received no support or justice. I know about children who were molested and never felt they could say anything. Because the military does not keep a sexual predator list, we believe that these crimes are mostly committed by serial predators. The only way to stop the crimes is to get the perpetrators off the street and the best way to make that happen is to support the Military Justice Improvement Act.