Words are not enough: Sexual assault in the military

Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
Nov. 12, 2013

In 2010, 50,000 male veterans said they experienced sexual trauma in a survey for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Twenty-six thousand sexual assault reports involving service members were reported in 2012. In 2011, that number was 19,000.

According to the reports from the Pentagon last week, the number of sexual assault complaints has increased almost 46 percent since last year.

“Sexual assault in the military is not new,” Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, according to the New York Daily News. “It has been allowed to fester in the shadows for far too long.”

Gilibrand is currently trying to rally support for a bill that would remove commanders from the process of reporting sexual assault. In the military, everything is based on a ranking system. As a high-ranking officer, commanders of a unit or a group of soldiers decide whether an alleged incident of sexual assault will go to trial.

Gillibrand argues that commanders and other military personnel don’t have the needed legal experiences that military trial lawyers have. Her bill currently has 47 senators behind it, but it needs 60 to pass.

It wasn’t until 1992, after the Tailhook scandal, that the military even started to classify soldier-on-soldier sexual assault. During the 35th annual Tailhook Association Symposium, a four-day long event, 100 Navy and Marine service members allegedly sexually assaulted 83 women and seven men.

After Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin came forward about the incident, in which she was assaulted, top military officials lost their job and sexual assault training became mandatory for all branches of the military.

In an interview with the Navy Times in early June, Coughlin said, “The military still has an antiquated view of sex assault.”

It wasn’t until November 1 of this year that sexual assault victims are now allowed the option to have a legal representative during the legal proceedings, according to the U.S. Army’s website.

But victims aren’t just women.

In 2010, male soldiers took an anonymous Pentagon survey about why they did not report their sexual assault. More than half of the men said that they didn’t want anyone to know, and one-third said that they didn’t think anyone would do anything.

Besides, psychical and psychological trauma, soldiers can face retaliation for coming forward in terms of losing rank, not being promoted or unfair treatment by coworkers or superiors.

In wasn’t until 2005 that the Pentagon established a special victims unit called the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

‚ÄúThere is a notion that somehow or other, our military has addressed this issue because they are saying the right words,” Caughlin said.

The Department of Denfense and the military have taken efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, but to also increase the rate of reporting.
Words are not enough are not enough to make up for these grievances.

And to an extent, neither have the actions thus far.

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