Women who are in the military face multiple dangers. On the one hand, there is the enemy they are preparing to confront. On the other, there is the fellow military member who might sexually harass her and rape her when she least expects it.
This is an unacceptable situation that continues to spread given the Pentagon’s inability to tackle it efficiently. The numbers paint a very worrisome picture. An anonymous informal survey in the Pentagon revealed that more than 26,000 personnel said they had been victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012. Only 3,374 filed charges, with 594 cases going to a court-martial and just 238 resulting in convictions. At the same time, the Defense Department estimated that there has been a 35% increase in the number of similar incidents in the past two years.
Reports on these cases are under the jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and are prosecuted within the chain of command. According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, this system must continue because it maintains unit cohesion. However, this does not do much to discourage harassment against women.
The worst example is the case of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, who was recently arrested for groping women. As the head of the sexual assault prevention division, Krusinski was one of the officials in charge of receiving sexual harassment complaints.
The alternative, as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed, is to remove these cases from the military chain of command so that civilian judges are the ones making the decisions. If military justice is unable to handle these types of crimes, it is logical to have judges who have more experience take over the task.
Women who decide to join the military deserve respect from everyone, especially those who share with them the honor and sacrifice of serving the country in this manner. The military structure must protect them from sexual abuse instead of being a quiet accomplice because it does not know how to handle these cases. These crimes must not go unpunished. Therefore, if military justice does not take action, it is time for civilian justice to step in.