5 Things To Know About This Week’s Military Sexual Assault Hearings

This week, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee tackled the scourge of sexual violence in the military and voted to remove military top brass from their ability to overturn convictions for sexual assault. Yet Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said the hearings were “stunningly bad,” as military leaders were unprepared to respond to the questions from senators and unwilling to consider many suggested changes.

Here are five things you should know about what went down this week as Congress took substantive steps to eradicate the military’s sexual assault problem.

  1. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the proposal to shift the power to decide which sexual assault cases to try from commanders to military prosecutors. The hope is that removing this power from commanders will increase the number of sexual assaults that are reported and decrease the number of sexual assault charges that are dropped without reason. The proposal aims to remove some of the bias that a commander inherently has for or against an immediate subordinate. Since commanders know their subordinates, they sometimes ignore a victim because they value the work of the rapist too much. Victims are also sometimes seen as “troublemakers” which dissuades them from reporting the crime. This bill currently has 18 co-sponsors, four of which are Republicans.
  1. Military leaders largely oppose Sen. Gillibrand’s pretty reasonable proposal. One general said, regarding Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal, that “making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work.” This statement, however, assumes that commanders are being held responsible and accountable to begin with. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) agreed, arguing, “These commanders have to make decisions to send our brave troops into battle. How ludicrous is it that we would say to our commanders, `You’ve got to make a decision to send one of our kids into battle where they may end up losing their life, but you can’t participate in the justice system of the troops.’ It doesn’t make any sense at all.” This change does make sense, however, when victims of sexual assault are afraid to report the crimes to their commanders. Fortunately, eventually lawmakers backed the measure which says commanders can’t overturn sentences on sexual assault cases.
  1. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) thinks men rape because they’re hormonal and horny. “The young folks coming in to each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22 or 23,” Sen. Chambliss said. “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful how we address it on our side.” There are so many problems with this statement that I’m not really sure where to begin, but Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did a pretty good job of it, explaining that sexual assault is about violence, not sex.
  1.  Also this week, the House of Representatives passed the Ruth Moore Act. The Ruth Moore Act, so named for a former female troop who was raped twice while serving in the Navy, will make it easier for victims of military sexual trauma (MST) to received disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by changing the documentation that is required. Veterans Affairs has long rejected disability claims of MST for troops who were raped by colleagues and now need assistance. According to the Service Women’s Action Network, only one in three claims of PTSD from MST were approved by the VA between 2008 to 2010, likely because the threshold was seen as too high.
  1. The House Armed Services Committee will debate other aspects of The Defense Authorization Act later today and tomorrow. The bill will be added to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which gets voted on next week. In the mean time, brace yourself for more offensive comments about rape victims from our politicians and military!

[New York Times]
[Huffington Post]
[US News & World Reports]
[Portland Press Herald]

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