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Our Military: Fighting to Keep Their Culture of Abuse

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End the culture of abuse toward women in our military that has been going on unchecked for decades. In 2012 there was a 35% increase and  In 2013 there were 5400 cases of military sexual assault reported, a 60% increase.   The 26,000 reports of sexual assault in 2012 are only 20% of actual assaults because 62% of women who do report-- experience severe retaliation, which is worse than the actual assault, ends their careers and deters reporting. (Fear of Reprisal: The Quiet Accomplice in the Military's Sexual-Assault Epidemic)

The Associated Press obtained 1000 records of military sexual assault cases in Japan, between 2005 and 2013, showing "hundreds of cases". and painting a disturbing picture of how senior American officers prosecute and punish troops accused of sex crimes." There were "seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges. In two rape cases, commanders overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead." While military leaders say things are getting better and there are more cases now going to court-martial, that was not shown in the Japan documents. Of the 473 cases of sexual assault allegations only 116 or 24 percent went to court-martial.

Kirsten Gillibrand, in the Senate and Jackie Speier in the House, have both authored legislation that can potentially spell the end of this horrific abuse culture our military has been fostering since Tailhook in 1991. Many of the sexual assaults to our servicewomen are committed by the very senior officers and commanders that these women must report to. This Doonesbury cartoon aptly depicts the risk to servicewomen.       

Senator Gillibrand plans to bring her Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) back to the floor of the Senate this month. She currently has 53 co-sponsors and is looking for seven more. With the confirmation of Senator Max Baucus of Montana as our new Ambassador to China, we may see John Walsh, the Lt. Governor of Montana, appointed to the vacant Baucus seat. John Walsh is an Iraq veteran with 33 years experience in the Montana National Guard and is running for that seat, since Baucus announced his retirement from the Senate. In an Op Ed published by The Hill, Lt. Governor Walsh spoke out in support of Gillibrand's MJIA and said, "For generations, too many military leaders have believed that removing these responsibilities from commanders would somehow undermine their authority on other matters. I'm confident that is not the case."

Our military and members of the Senate have been fighting against the very thing that can end this culture of abuse-- taking these cases out of the chain of command. Sexual assault cases are complicated, messy, and pose a serious conflict of interest for commanders. That conflict is evident in the Garry Trudeau's cartoon and in the military's own surveys which state that commanders were more interested in their own careers than the best interests of their soldiers. It is clear, from what I learned and wrote in my book Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military , that commanders career self interests and the protection and promotion of perpetrators are far more important to them than justice for women in the military. [ here; The Secretary Of The Army's Senior Review Panel Report On Sexual Harassment (Vol. 2) Pages 1 - Annex ]

Commanders have a big job to do in the military and dealing with sexual assault cases is not only unnecessary, but also undesirable.   Let them do the job they do best--command their troops unhindered by conflict of interest. Why are they holding onto authority in sexual assault cases? I vehemently urge them to stop clinging to this level of control, let it go and instead be a positive model for courage, honor, and accountability. Have the courage to stand up for justice rather than fight to maintain an ugly culture that serves no one. Restore honor to a military that has been plagued with sexual assault scandals and whose image was irreparably tarnished. And most important of all-- be accountable for what you have created and fostered--demonstrate that you as an institution, can be as accountable as the soldiers you command and expect accountability from.

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This article appeared on February 24, 2014 in Truthout.

Sarah L. Blum ARNP is a 74 year old decorated nurse Vietnam Veteran and the author of the Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military-- ,

Sexual Abuse in the Military needs to be Brought to Light, Seattle Times, 12 July 2012.

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Sarah L. Blum, a decorated nurse Vietnam veteran, nurse psychotherapist, author of the book: Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military and a passionate voice for justice and healing. Her editorials were published in the Seattle Times, Truthout, and (more...)

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