Tonawanda News

Opinion

August 14, 2013

DUVALL: Military sex assault reporting must change

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — The only way to fix it is create an independent investigative arm in which victims can have confidence they’ll be treated fairly.

McCaskill argues in favor of keeping the reporting inside the chain of command for several entirely practical reasons. First, she argues, the bureaucracy inherent in creating a system outside the military chain of command endangers victims. Those lawyers, sometimes half a world away, can’t protect a victim as ably as a commander who’s on the ground.

And requiring victims to circumvent commanders in reporting instances of sexual abuse absolves commanders of their inherent responsibility to prevent such crimes in the first place. Better, McCaskill argues, to force commanders to run a tighter ship and put the impetus on military brass to crack down on commanders who aren’t living up to a new, much more rigorous standard in preventing sexual assault.

From where I’m sitting, I have to side with Gillibrand — this is a problem that seems larger than the status quo can overcome. If 33,000 military personnel can fall victim to sexual assault clearly it’s a situation clearly out of control.

Furthermore, military leaders have claimed breaking the essential chain of command will lead to chaos. As we pointed out in an editorial last month, what chain of command is worth preserving — and what precisely is it controlling — if it leads to this culture of lawlessness? 

Continuing to grant unit commanders the ability to scuttle reported sexual assaults and create a culture of fear and shame for victims to discourage them from coming forward in the first place sends a message that things don’t really have to change.

There are sensible procedures that can be put in place that can protect victims from reprisals while still pursuing legal rights in an outside prosecutorial system. Outside prosecutors should be empowered to act immediately on behalf of a victim in much the same way police can for incidents of domestic abuse in civilian life, instituting a military equivalent of a restraining order while an allegation is investigated that commanding officers would be tasked with enforcing. 

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