Military sexual assault cases have been all over the news lately. In response to the recent spate of sexual assault allegations, top military commanders and Congress have promised to create a culture change in the military and to stringently prosecute service members who sexually assault other service members or civilians for that matter.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently promised to “re-train, re-credential and re-screen” military recruiters and sexual prevention officers, the Washington Post reported. Army General Ray Odierno has called sexual assault a “cancer within the force,” and Fox News quoted Odierno as saying it is imperative “to prosecute wrongdoing and hold people accountable.”
That might not be enough for Congress, however.
A controversial bill would take matters out of the hands of military commanders, who currently decide whether sex
crime cases will go to trial. Instead, uniformed prosecutors would decide whether to try a service member for sexual assault. The commanders oppose the bill, proposed by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y). Instead of commanders, seasoned trial counsels with the rank of colonel or above would decide whether to move forward with prosecution.
Since March, seven bills regarding sexual assault in the military have been introduced in both houses of Congress.
On June 4, a Senate panel convened the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to testify on the growing problem of sex crimes in the military. There were 26,000 estimated victims of sexual assault in 2012, a Pentagon report in May showed. That’s up from 19,000 in 2010. The report also indicated that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward with sexual assault charges for fear of retaliation.
Still, the heads of the military branches are not convinced commanders should be removed from the equation. General James F. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote in a letter on May 17 to Senators Carl Levin and James Inhofe that it is important that victims know commanders will hold offenders responsible, rather than a third-party prosecutor, in order for the commander to maintain discipline and trust of the troops.
While many are concerned about sexual assault among U.S. armed troops, the penalties for a soldier who is convicted of such a crime are severe. Military prison time, dishonorable discharge and other penalties may come with a military sexual assault charge. Service members facing such allegations should contact an experienced military defense attorney to protect their rights and defend their careers.
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