Senator Kristen Gillibrand has been working incredibly hard to make sure that military service members who have been sexually assaulted by fellow military service members are able to have an unbiased appraisal of their case. She and many others insist that the current system, one in which military commanders assess the situation and make a decision whether to send a case forward for prosecution, is flawed. In fact, they believe it is so flawed that the system is partially to blame for the thousands of victims that will not come forward to officially accuse their rapists. Instead, they file a request that allows them to seek psychological counseling for their trauma without needing to go to court. Even this form of reporting can be detrimental to the military career of the victim.
Senator Gillibrand and 27 co-sponsors presented a measure to the Senate Armed Services Committee for inclusion in a defense spending bill. Instead of being greeted as a solution to a growing problem, the measure has been treated with the utmost disrespect. Senator Carl Levin plans to replace the measure with his own, one that keeps the status quo and places a band-aid on a very pustulant wound - if a commander chooses not to press forward with a case, a senior military officer will review the decision. Front pager, Laura Clawson, and I agree - it's a case of old white men helping old white men perpetuate a system that doesn't work.
Obviously, Senator Levin doesn't understand why the system is failing so horribly. Maybe some of you don't understand either.
Join me below the fold to find out more.
Military commanders are being asked to choose sides between the stories of two of their troops. They see these cases as "he said, she said" situations. They try to weigh them as if on a balance scale. They take information that would never be admitted in a court of law to make determinations about the case. If they had watched the award winning film, The Invisible War, they might know that rapists are very good at appearing to be model citizens. They are squeaky clean on the outside. They target their victims who are chosen for certain traits that feed into the stereotypes that our society has deemed "acceptable for a woman to be raped." You know them well:
She asked for it.
She was dressed provocatively.
She has sex with all the guys.
She's had multiple boyfriends.
She knew what was expected when she joined.
She didn't say no.
She didn't fight me.
Although these stereotypes should be long outdated, many a commander still believes at least some of the above. And don't think it's only male commanders that think these things. Female commanders can be biased as well. Remember, a commander is usually around 40 years old... not much younger than I am know. I grew up in an age where young teenage women were taught that the way we dress and places we didn't go could help prevent a rape from happening. It was all about our behavior. Female commanders were raised in this same culture.
When commanders see evidence of a sexual assault and their biases become a part of the decision making process, they're likely to err on what they believe is the safe side because, more often than not, it's next to impossible to believe that the accused could have ever committed such a crime. Why would he ruin his career? Why would he hurt his wife and family? It is so much easier to believe that a woman would lie than that a man wants sex that badly. Commanders misunderstand rape altogether.
Basically, despite years of zero tolerance failures, senior leadership in military circles still strongly insists that giving this single decision to a civilian justice system will harm a commander's ability to retain good morale and welfare of his or her troops.
Let's face it. At the moment an alleged victim walks into the office of the commander to report a rape, the morale and welfare of the troops is harmed, period. And every time a rape case is pushed to the wayside because a commander doesn't think there is sufficient evidence, morale is harmed even further. But why would a commander do this? We spend a lot of time and money training these men and women to make good decisions. And I used to believe, especially when I first started writing about Military Sexual Trauma, that we could offer better training for our commanders, that they were capable of seeing past their preconceived notions and learning more about the crime of rape.
I've since changed my mind, largely because of actions and comments of the senior leadership, especially Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark Welsh. Although he later apologized for blaming the current sexual assault crisis on the hook-up culture of today's youth, his comment revealed a blatant misunderstanding of sexual assault and rape. Furthermore, his comment implied that sexual assault is worse in today's military than it was in the past... he just doesn't realize that more and more victims are stepping forward because the climate is open to hearing their stories. They are no longer being pushed away by the vast majority.
This is a worrisome time for leaders in our military. I believe the seriously do want to fix what is wrong - they really do want to see a day when zero tolerance is real. But they are blinded by years of living in an enclosed society and by repeated years of training that has them convinced that women can prevent rape by changing their behavior.
Please contact Senator Levin and let him know your thoughts on the matter.