When I was born, my father was a 1st lieutenant in the United States Army. He served in an army burn center for more than five years.
I am so proud of his service to this country. He helped both military personnel and civilians — often responsible for saving their lives. For this (and other reasons) I idolized my dad, and I guess I still do.
As I little girl, I dreamed of being in the Army and fighting bad guys.
As I got older, I realized my role in the Army or Navy would be less field orientated and focused more on intelligence or human resources. Despite this, I was excited at the prospects of either enlisting in the National Guard at some point in college or applying for Officer Candidate School (OCS) after graduation.
Last summer, I went to the Air Force recruiter’s office and spoke about applying for officer training. I was told that my experience in Classical languages and strong grade point average would make me a shoe-in for officer training.
I was excited, until I began reading about what is arguably the military’s biggest problem at this point in time.
Brutality toward prisoners? Torture or unkept promises about wars’ end? All those are real, but the problem I’m going to discuss is domestic. It’s interpersonal, very interpersonal.
The problem responsible for my about-face regarding military service is military sexual assault.
Roughly 207,308 women serve on active duty. That can also be translated as 14.5 percent of active-duty military personnel. The Department of Defense has estimated that one in three women in the military are sexually assaulted as opposed to one in six civilian women.
It’s been estimated that 19,000 female military members have been sexually assaulted between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 31, 2011. However, only 3,192 cases were reported. Even fewer were tried.
Granted, sexual abuse occurs toward both females and males. A 2011 report from the Department of Defense found that about 12 percent of those abused were male while the other 88 percent were female.
For women, however, the threat is obviously greater and thus a bigger deterrent toward enlistment.
The problem with military culture is the inherent top-down hierarchy. Often, the military’s sexual predators are of higher rank than their victims.
Should a person be sexually assaulted, they are supposed to report the incident to their commanding officer. It could be the very person who caused the abuse, or it may be someone who does not want his or her record of leadership tarnished by admitting that sexual misconduct happened on his or her watch.
New York senator Kristen Gillibrand is collaborating with other Democrats as well as Tea Party Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to restructure how military sexual assault charges are handled.
Currently, if a charge leads to arrests, the case is tried in military court — a court made up of folks who have spent their lives in the dictatorial culture of the U.S. military.
That means the cases often end up either not tried and brushed under the rug or tried but with the abuser often being acquitted and allowed to stay in the military.
Gillibrand and her supporters want sexual assault taken out of the hands of the military chain of command, thus, allowing victims reassurance that their allegations will not be ignored.
The Huffington Post reported Gillibrand said that supporting her legislation is a matter of believing the victims’ claims that they don’t report sexual abuse because they don’t trust they chain of command.
Her words were said in reference to the senators who do not support her reform. Those most vehemently opposed to her are seantors John McCain (R-Ariz.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who is chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee.
McCain has accused Gillibrand of lacking military experience and not fully understanding the system. His supporters seem to agree.
Yet how can he say this when the problem is obviously with the military structure?
It doesn’t take a seasoned veteran to see that unresolved sexual abuse allegations means there is a problem, whether that’s with actual abuse (likely) or lying on the part of more than 19,000 people.
The issue should be resolved, and if it takes a civilian court to do so, then so be it.
After all, our military is supposed to be controlled by the civilian representative government.