Local Editorials

Our View: Betrayed by battle buddies

They are supposed to serve and protect each other, too.

But that’s not the picture emerging from the U.S. military when it comes to how its leaders deal with accusations of sexual assault.

The Pentagon estimates that more than a quarter of the approximately 200,000 women currently serving in the military will be sexually assaulted during their careers.

But only a fraction of assailants will be prosecuted. In the 2011 fiscal year, there were 3,192 reports of military sexual assault; 1,518 were reviewed for possible disciplinary action, 989 were disciplined, and 48 were administratively discharged, according to the Defense Department.

Allegations of sexual assault must be made to a soldier’s commander, not an independent prosecutor. Advocates for change – including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who introduced legislation that would have an outside prosecutor handle military rape cases – say victims fear reporting an assault to a commanding officer will lead to the loss of a job or damaged reputation.

Leaders from every branch of the military opposed the legislation, which was derailed.

“Reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and, ultimately, to accomplish the mission,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said earlier this month during a Senate committee hearing.

Those commanders have another mission too: making sure that their troops, who volunteer for the often dangerous job of keeping our country secure, are safe when among their fellow soldiers.

This past month has offered civilians a glimpse of the military’s culture when it comes to sexual assault. The lieutenant colonel who ran the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was charged with sexual assault, and the Army sergeant in charge of sexual assault prevention at Fort Hood came under investigation for the same thing.

Those are the high-profile cases. The statistics provided by the Pentagon don’t show the women and men behind those figures, or tell their stories.

Kati Beck, of Marengo, is one of those numbers. She said she was raped twice during her seven years in the Air Force. You can read more about her experiences in the front-page story of Sunday’s Northwest Herald and online.

She’s at a point where she wants to talk about her experience, so others in the same situation know they’re not alone.

Our country needs to show these men and women that they are not alone, and to stand behind those who put themselves on the line for all of us.

The military has demonstrated it can’t handle prosecuting accusations of rape by one of its own. It’s time to break the chain of command, and allow independent prosecutors handle military sexual assault cases.

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