On Thursday, the 20th of March, a sexual assault case against Army General Jeffrey Sinclair, and Sinclair was not convicted on the charge of sexual assault. Feminist groups and many members of congress take the results as evidence that the military justice system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to and steps should be taken to re-evaluate it and make changes as necessary. Those who felt that the verdict was “just”, might have thought this was a prime example of how the military justice system is supposed to work. And that the cases should never have gone to trial to begin with, so their being dismissed is only appropriate.
However, no matter their feelings on the Jeffrey Sinclair case, all agree that there is still a major problem with sexual assault in the military that deeply penetrates the institution. There are concerns that much of the trial was political in nature, with the military commanders involved weighing political ramifications for every action before they made decisions. Eugene R. Fidell, a professor of military law at Yale, said, “They are aware, trust me on this. They are aware the Senate will not confirm people to higher pay grade if they are believed to be soft on sexual offenses.” While it is concerning that military commanders are making decisions not based on the rights and wrongs of the case and those involved, but on the political effects they could feel in their own careers based on their decisions, it shouldn’t be surprising. Such concerns are very natural and make perfect sense.
A couple weeks ago, after a lengthy debate on the best way to help lessen the number of sexual assault cases in the military, the Senate approved a measure that would prevent the “good soldier defense” from being used in a sexual assault case to vindicate a defendant, as well as other measures that would give additional protections to the victims. It’s important to remember, though, that those measures are just a start, and the debate is far from over on how to improve the sexual assault situation in all branches of the military. For Big Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, the accusations were that he had twice forced a female captain to perform oral sex on him. For that charge, the evidence was insufficient and the female captain’s credibility came into serious question.
The defense for Sinclair also raised pertinent questions as to the reason why Sinclair’s commander had decided to press ahead with the trial even without sufficient evidence, and was criticized for doing so out of a desire to be viewed as being tough on sexual assault. While Sinclair was found not guilty on the charge of sexual assault, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery and inappropriate relationships with two other women via nude pictures and sexually explicit email. Sinclair was originally facing 20 years in prison for the sexual assault charges, which is quite a long time since most sexual assault cases result in 2-4 years in prison. In the civilian world, committing adultery isn’t a crime, and neither is exchanging sexually explicit emails or asking for nude pictures from consenting adults, so when Big Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was sentenced to a reprimand and a $20,000 fine for those things, it seemed very odd for some members of Congress to call the sentence “laughable” and “shockingly light”.
Considering Sinclair is still to face a disciplinary board which could demote him, costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost pension over the course of his life, I would say that “laughable” is a very naive word to use to describe the punishment. For women’s rights advocates who consider Sinclair as still guilty of sexual assault, it is easier to understand why they might feel that the punishment was nowhere near as severe as it should have been. In cases like these, it’s easy to disagree with the verdict of the court, but the fact of the matter is, no one has as much information on the case as the ones making the final decision. Sure, we read things online, and we read articles that say this and that about the case, but we have no way of knowing if what we’re reading is even true, let alone how much information we don’t have.