Fix military’s sexual assault problem
Arizonan Martha McSally spent 26 years in the military, becoming the first female Air Force pilot to fly in combat. She went on to a successful career in politics, leading her to the U.S. Senate. Clearly, she is a strong woman.
Yet she was shaken deeply on Wednesday, as she participated in a Senate hearing on the military’s efforts to deal with sexual assault. One had only to watch McSally as she talked to a panel of witnesses, also female veterans, to understand how deeply facing enemies wearing her own uniform had affected her.
While in the Air Force, McSally, too, was a victim of sexual assault, she related Wednesday. The Air Force’s reaction to her trauma “felt like the system was raping me all over again,” she said.
Others testifying before the Senate committee had similar stories. Superior officers too often did not take decisive action to protect them or to punish the predators who hurt them, they said. Sometimes, it was those very higher-ranking officers who assaulted them.
After the hearing, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Carrie Volpe had this to say about McSally: “We stand behind her and all the victims of sexual assault. We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”
Stories of women and, rarely, men, being targets of sexual predators in the military are not new, however. They have been around for decades.
And that “steadfast” commitment to protecting their own? Well, in 2017, the most recent year for which information is available, reports of sexual assaults in the military were up nearly 10 percent from the previous year.
The Defense Department itself admits that in 2017, it received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects of criminal investigation. That does not include the number of victims who were afraid to come forward — such as McSally — or whose complaints were swept under the rug before reaching the Pentagon.
This needs to end.
Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is a longtime advocate of requiring independent investigations of sexual assault allegations in the military, instead of having superior officers handle the charges. She has cited a 2016 Pentagon report that showed nearly 60 percent of military sexual assault survivors said they experienced some form of retaliation for reporting the crime. That study also showed a measly 9 percent conviction rate for these crimes.
The North Country’s congresswoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has remained on the side of keeping these investigations within the chain of command. We respectfully disagree.
Congress should reconsider Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act. Those who serve our country, sometimes at great risk and sacrifice, should not have to worry that some of their enemies wear the same uniform.