The Department of Defense just released its annual report on the problem of sexual assault in the military. The report, based on anonymous surveys conducted throughout the military branches, shows that 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted in the 2012 fiscal year, up from 19,000 in the same period a year before.
For its part, the military recorded only 3,374 sexual assault reports last year, up from 3,192 in 2011. The discrepancies between privately reported and publicly reported suggest that many sexual assault victims do not report the crimes for fear of retribution or a lack of justice under the department’s system for prosecuting them.
The report created immediate outrage in Washington, the White House, and among cabinet members. The emotion on display has been accelerated by the arrest over the weekend of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, an Air Force officer who led the branch’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit. He has been charged with groping a woman in a parking lot.
Reaction to the Report on Sexual Assaults
The report has kindled a conflagration of response, and the arrest of Krusinski has been like jet fuel to the inferno. Here is a sampling of the censure that has been directed at the military:
- President Obama’s reaction was incendiary “I have no tolerance for this,” he said. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged—period.”
- Washington lawmakers quickly denounced the increased number of assaults as “horrifying,” vowing to introduce legislation that will “fundamentally” change the way the military investigates and prosecutes the crime.
- Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel released a statement saying he has spoken with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to express “outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations.” Donley, in particular, has been a lightning rod, given the arrest of Krusinski.
- Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was practically yelling as she addressed Donley in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing over the continued pattern of sexual assault on women. Gillibrand openly questioned whether the military was capable of investigating and prosecuting the crimes. She said this scandal was “undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world.”
Senator Gillibrand is seeking to have all sex offenders in the military discharged from service; she would also like to replace the current system of resolving sexual assault by taking it outside a victim’s chain of command. Gillibrand also questioned the willingness of the military to hold accountable and punish its guilty, citing in particular the recent decision made by an Air Force general, who reversed guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases with little explanation.
President Obama instructed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to step up our game exponentially” to prevent sex crimes in the military and hold offenders accountable. “For those who are in uniform who’ve experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs,” he added.
The indignation in the nation’s capital and throughout the country suggests that real change is on the way regarding how the military addresses allegations of sexual abuse and prosecutes such cases. No matter the details of who conducts the upcoming Krusinski trial, expect them to make a statement with the case. Public awareness on these matters is at an all-time high and the pressure to exact justice for criminal behavior is enormous.
Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Welsh, said military lawyers would request jurisdiction in the case involving Lt. Col. Krusinski. Welsh’s public reaction has been that he is “appalled” by Krusinski’s arrest. “It is unacceptable that this occurs anytime or anywhere in our Air Force,” Welsh added. Welsh said that Arlington County prosecutors would make a final decision about whether to grant jurisdiction in the case to the military.
A vast portion of these reported sexual assaults in the military is against women. With the military’s January 2013 decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, clearly the Armed Services need strong policy statements on how they will protect their own. If the decision is to put men and women together in battle situations where the black and white rule of law is grayed for the fierceness of the circumstances, soldiers have to know they will be protected against abuse from within.