Washington, D.C.-Over the past year the American military has been faced with an inordinate number of cases involving sexual harassment and assault. The military has taken steps to curtail the problem, but lawmakers in Washington want them to do more. Provisions included in the new defense bill signed by President Obama on Thursday took aim at the way the military handles cases of sexual assault and harassment within its ranks.
Under the new law, anyone who has sexually assaults a peer will face a dishonorable discharge. Military commanders are prohibited from reversing judgments in sexual assault cases and anyone who retaliates against a person for reporting misconduct will be punished.
Lawmakers were also outraged to find that in military commanders reversed judgments in two cases where a valued soldier was found guilty of sexual assault and rape. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation that she believed would curtail the problem, but was met with resistance from military leaders who did not want to disrupt the chain of command.
The military was given time to find ways to crackdown on sexual assault and improve the reporting system, but their efforts proved to be unsuccessful.
During the spring of this year, several military officers who were in charge of military sexual assault programs were accused of various types of misconduct such as sexual battery and domestic violence. Instead of assault reports decreasing, they rose significantly and Congress moved to combat the rampant problem.
A Department of Defense report form early this year showed that there were 26,000 complaints of sexual assault within the military ranks in 2012. That data did not include sexual harassment complaints but did include quid-pro-quo intimidation in which sexual assault victims were coerced into keeping allegations secret for fear of losing their jobs or promotions.
A DOD report for the 2013 fiscal year which ended on September 30th shows that reports of sexual assault increased. According the report there were 5,000 reported cases of sexual assault a dramatic increase over 2012 when there were 3,374 reported cases, according to the Huffington Post.
The DOD believes the 2013 increase can be attributed to the victims’ willingness to come forward and confidence in the reporting system.
According to the DOD, 86 percent of sexual assaults in the military go unreported, but the 2013 increase indicates that more victims are willing to come forward. Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office said that more victims are agreeing to make official complaints, rather than simply seeking medical attention without filing a formal complaint.
While Congress approved of changes they believe will encourage sexual assault victims to come forward, some think the legislation did not go far enough. The original legislation introduced by Sen. Gillibrand, the Military Justice Improvement Act, would have required third parties to oversee and prosecute cases of assault. The new legislation included in the Defense Authorization Act allows the chain of command to stay intact and gives military commanders the power to prosecute and punish sexual assault perpetrators.