Tag Archives: military sexual violence

Op-Ed: Military Sexual Violence rooted in military culture

Curbing Convening Authority Power to Alter Court-Martial Convictions Is No Solution, Is Insufficient and Misses the Point

David Gespass

David Gespass

By David Gespass

There is no denying that “sexual assault” (a euphemism for rape and attempted rape) is a serious problem within the military. Indeed, it has always been a problem, though it may now be more serious from the point of view of military authorities because victims, increasingly, are other members of the armed forces rather than civilians.

To date, the solutions that have been proposed are, from the military, more training and, from various civilians (most notably, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand), stripping convening authorities of their power to alter court-martial convictions and sentences. The former has been spectacularly unsuccessful. The latter highlights the tension between two important ends, those of protecting people from sexual violence and protecting the due process rights of individuals accused of crime.

Thus far, there has been near universal acknowledgment that the problem exists but little has been done to address, much less solve, it. Indeed, even as sexual violence appears epidemic, elected officials tie themselves in knots praising our men and women in uniform while, at the same time, condemning perpetrators of such violence yet refusing even to consider that the culture of the armed forces promotes it. This is not to say that everyone who enlists is bound to become a predator. Rather, the soil of military culture is one in which potential predators can be nourished and thrive. And our elected officials are loath to suggest such a thing for fear of being criticized as disparaging “our” troops.

June 2014 issue of On Watch now online

The latest issue of MLTF’s quarterly newsletter, On Watch, released to members and subscribers about a month ago, is now available to the public.

On Watch June, 2014 Vol. xxv No. 2 (PDF)

Titles in bold indicate that the article is published online in addition to in the PDF version of On Watch linked above.

Military sexual assault — It’s the culture

An Op-Ed for MLTF

The military is once again in crisis over sexual assaults. In recent weeks, it has become more apparent than ever that the military’s sexual assault policy is a failure, and that sexual assault in the services has become epidemic.

In early May, the Department of Defense (DoD) released new figures showing a significant increase in reported and unreported assaults — DoD estimates that over 26,000 servicemembers were assaulted in 2012, with only 3,374 of these cases reported to the military. Just as the figures were released, the Air Force was rocked by news that the head of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program had been arrested for sexual battery. More recently, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Ft. Hood was charged with sexual assault and pandering. On May 12, the Washington Post published an article recounting a number of incidents of sexual misconduct and sexual assault of potential recruits by military recruiters. All of this came not long after two separate cases of officers with court-martial convening authority who, against the advice of their own attorneys, granted clemency to officers convicted of sexual assault at courts-martial. Meanwhile, at Lackland Air Force Base, the series of courts-martial continue for instructors accused of sexual misconduct with recruits. Most recently, a sergeant on staff at West Point has been accused of secretly videotaping female cadets, sometimes when they were undressed in bathrooms or showers.

Secretary of Defense Hagel and President Obama have expressed outrage at these events and promised to take aggressive action on the issue. Secretary Hagel announced the re-training and re-certification of all Sexual Assault Prevention and Response providers and all recruiters, and promised to cooperate with Congress in developing legislation to address the issue.

But DoD has not made serious efforts to identify and root out the fundamental causes of this long-standing sexual assault epidemic. The response to this and previous scandals has been to call for more training, revise regulations, establish panels to evaluate the problem, and call for yet more training. Defense personnel and other analysts stress that the problem is caused by a small number of rogue soldiers among large numbers of decent and law-abiding servicemembers and, recently, that soldiers bring coarse attitudes about sex and sexual assault into the military from the civilian world.

But those who know the military first hand see, from their own service or from providing legal assistance to servicemembers, that much of the cause of the sexual assault epidemic lies in the military’s own culture – a culture that contains strong elements of sexism and tolerates sexual harassment and discrimination, giving tacit acceptance to sexual violence. Despite significant increases in the number of women in the military, it remains a strongly misogynist institution.

Starting in boot camp, young soldiers are taught combat skills and military discipline with the use of violent and dehumanizing sexual imagery. In language too graphic for this statement, they are told to equate prowess in combat with sexual prowess, and manliness with sexual conquest. The use of sexism and sexual violence as a training mechanism has proven effective in a period where patriotism and ideas of national self-defense cannot be counted on to motivate soldiers to fight. This sexist indoctrination is reinforced in training and discipline, rituals and social life, throughout members’ service, creating a masculinized camaraderie with great tolerance for —even appreciation of — sexual harassment. The DoD’s recently released report on sexual assault mentions this male–dominated culture as an issue in sexual assault, but the idea is buried in the text and not pursued. Instead, the report emphasizes the need for training, command accountability, effective use of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program — and more training.

Another aspect of military culture — retaliation against whistleblowers and troublemakers — affects reporting of sexual assaults. According to DoD’s own surveys, nearly half of those assaulted who did not report the offense thought they would be labeled a troublemaker for doing so. And the anecdotal experience of military attorneys and counselors shows this to be the case, as women (and men) who report assaults often find themselves the victims of command reprisals ranging from unwanted psychiatric evaluations to involuntary discharges for alleged misconduct or minor psychological problems. (Slightly more than half of those surveyed were afraid they would not be believed, and a large number feared that they would have no confidentiality if they reported.) When commands ignore complaints or retaliate against complainants, they send an implicit message that sexual harassment and assault will be tolerated.

Until these cultural factors are addressed, DoD’s well-intentioned training and regulation changes can make little difference. An increased emphasis on prosecution of assaulters, changes in the court-martial system, and more training may be helpful, and may empower some survivors of sexual assault to report the crimes. But if the military does not address the basic sexism of its training and culture, these changes will do little good. Commands will continue to sidestep regulations and ignore reports, rapists will continue to think that their behavior is quietly acceptable, and the epidemic of sexual assault will continue.

Military (In)Justice: Real problems, phony answers (Op-Ed)

This article is an official statement of the Military Law Task Force and represents its views. The author is a founder of the Task Force, and currently serves on its steering committee.

In the aftermath of the reports that Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, exercising his prerogative as convening authority (CA), overturned the aggravated sexual assault (i.e. rape) conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is calling for a change in the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove that power. Hagel’s initiative (if one could call it that) fails to do anything substantive to address the real potential for abuse in the powers that inhere in the CA, while depriving court martial defendants of a protection that has existed virtually since the founding of the Continental Army.

As the accused’s commanding officer, the CA holds a unique place in American criminal jurisprudence and can choose to have an undue, if not determinative, influence over the outcome of a court martial. Among other powers, the CA selects the officer to conduct the Article 32 preliminary investigation, the members of the court, approves charges and specifications and designates the judge. It is hoped that these powers will be exercised neutrally, but they open the door for command influence, direct or subtle, which far more often inures to the disadvantage of an accused than the rare times that a conviction is set aside. An overhaul of the entire system, including the power of the CA to reduce sentences and reverse findings, is long overdue. Indeed, the old saying that military justice is to justice what military music is to music is attributable, in large part, to the decisive influence the CA is able to exercise. Parenthetically, the other reason the military “justice” system is so skewed, despite the substantial and extensive due process rights that an accused has, is that everything carries potential criminal liability. Nowhere else can someone be prosecuted, for example, for being late to work.

Revised regs on sexual assault, involuntary psych evaluations

DoD has reissued DoD Instruction 6495.02, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program Procedures, dated March 28, 2013, adding requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act.

In addition, DoD recently reissued its Instruction on involuntary psychiatric evaluation and hospitalization, DoD Instruction 6490.04, Mental Health Evaluations of Members of the Military Services, dated March 4, 2013.