Military Sexual Assault Hearings BeginMarch 20, 2013
It’s been a busy few days for advocates fighting sexual assault and harassment in our nation’s military. Last week, a blistering New York Times editorial noted
The Pentagon estimates as many as 19,000 service members are assaulted annually, but only a small fraction of the incidents — 3,191 in 2011 — get reported and about 10 percent of those cases proceed to trial. In all, around 1 in 3 military women has been sexually assaulted, a rate twice as high as the civilian rate.
The editorial went on to call for a reformed military criminal system: “Victims of assault, long discouraged from reporting attacks, should not have to complain to their bosses, and rely on them for justice.”
This call for reform was echoed in a Senate hearing Wednesday. Over several hours, members of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel heard from survivors of military sexual assault, as well as representatives from the armed forces. AAUW submitted a statement advocating the protection of service members from assault. One witness, BriGette McCoy, a former specialist in the U.S. Army, told senators about her experience:
I was raped during military service and during my first assignment — that was 1988, I was 18 years old; it was two weeks before my 19th birthday. That would not be the last time I was assaulted or harassed. This is my story, but it’s not mine alone. That year, the year that I was raped, that same year, I was raped again by another soldier in my unit. His formal apology consisted of him driving by me on base, rolling down his window, and saying to me, “Sorry.”
These witness testimonies prompted strong reactions from many senators. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said, “We must reform the way the military handles sexual assault. My hope is that today’s Senate Armed Services Committee’s Personnel Subcommittee hearing on military sexual assault will be a step toward reform.”
This issue was discussed at Friday’s meeting of the Defense Department’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman, CAE, spoke before the committee, telling them that “AAUW strongly supports efforts to protect the rights of military service members and end the scourge of sexual assault and violence. Such protections are a long time coming, and they are the least we can do to support and respect the women and men around the world advancing this country’s interests and safety.”
Also on Friday, the federal government announced that it had completed its review of new Defense Department regulations for preventing and responding to sexual assault cases in the military. The new provisions include the creation of a Sexual Assault Advisory Council at the Defense Department to oversee enforcement, guidelines clarifying reporting responsibilities, and an option allowing victims to report crimes confidentially.
AAUW will continue working with these groups to raise awareness and find legislative solutions to the problem of sexual assault in the military, particularly as women move into combat positions.
Learn more about the cases we support through our Legal Advocacy Fund or use our Program in a Box to host a screening of the the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War to educate your community about sexual assault in the armed forces and what they can do to make the military safer for all service members.