Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

August 16, 2013

GUEST COLUMNIST: Military Justice Improvement Act would protect soldiers

Staff report
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Combatting sexual abuse and assault in the military is an ongoing battle and our nation’s current policy “has failed,” according to General James F. Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

General Amos says that victims of sexual assault in the armed forces often do not come forward to report crimes because they “don’t trust the chain of command.”  In fact, 50 percent of sexual abuse victims in the military admitted they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done about it, according to a report from the military’s own Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Under current policy, a service member experiencing unwanted sexual contact is instructed to report the crime up through his or her chain of command. Unfortunately, in some cases, someone in that chain could also be the very perpetrator who has committed the crime.

According to the aforementioned report, 25 percent of service women and 27 percent of men received unwanted sexual contact from someone in their chain of command.  Of the victims who reported a sexual assault, 62 percent perceived some form of retaliation.

We cannot allow this epidemic of sexual abuse to continue.  The Department of Defense claims to have a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to addressing sexual crimes, but year after year (and victim after victim) the status quo remains.  It is past time to provide a safe harbor for our men and women in uniform. The great majority of our service members are principled and upstanding individuals, which only adds to the necessity for an allegation to be taken seriously and to be handled without a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Many members of Congress have already recognized these realities and are doing something about it including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, both potential Republican presidential candidates. How often does an issue bring together Democrats and Republicans, establishment and Tea Party, liberal and conservative? Led by New York Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, a Democrat, the Military Justice Improvement Act seeks to reverse the systemic fear that victims of military sexual assault have described in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them. A bipartisan group of more than 30 U.S. Senators, ranging from the most liberal to the most conservative, have signed on, and all should be commended for trying to forge consensus on a solution to a very serious problem.

The Military Justice Improvement Act implements a system of independent, trained military prosecutors handling decisions about whether serious crimes go to trial. Transferring the responsibility of investigation and prosecution of these crimes to legal experts eliminates potential conflicts of interest and ensures justice for alleged victims and the accused.

This law is supported by a wide array of U.S. Senators from across the political spectrum. I am a firm believer that good policy makes good politics, and I think U.S. Senators who support the Military Justice Improvement Act will find themselves in the good graces of voters back home.

We have the finest military in the world and all of our soldiers deserve our support and protection from unwanted sexual advances. The Military Justice Improvement Act accomplishes that goal.

A native of Glasgow, Ms. Knight, who now resides in Lexington, and Tulsa, Okla., served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly under President George W. Bush. She is active in the Republican Party and is involved in a number of charitable endeavors.