Army commanders may have to learn to let go a little control when it comes to getting sexual harassment under control.
The military has been hammered recently with a series of sexual harassment scandals, including a scathing report of a Fort Hood sergeant first class investigated for operating a small-time prostitution ring, and assaulting a woman who didn’t want to join up. The E-7 is a sexual assault prevention officer in III Corps.
The allegations about the Fort Hood NCO came a week after news that the Air Force’s top sexual harassment officer was beaten up in a parking lot for trying to assault a woman.
And just last Friday: Maj. Gen. Michael Harrison was suspended of his duties as the commanding general of United States Army Japan and I Corps due to allegations that Harrison failed in his duties as a commander to report or properly investigate an allegation of sexual assault.
The recent reports have caused an uproar in the public and in Congress.
We’ve been checking regularly to see if the accused senior-ranking NCO pops up in the jail bookings at the Bell County Jail. So far, he hasn’t. It’ll be interesting to see if he ever does, or will these allegations be quietly swept under the rug like so many others?
And therein lies the real problem; it’s not with the over-the-top, highly publicized cases, although those are acting as the catalyst to bring change. The real problem is with the sheer number of sexual abuse cases.
As the Associated Press has reported: The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel. The actual number of reports, however, is much lower: 3,374 in 2012. About 100 were filed with Fort Hood, although officials say not all of those happened locally.
I’d wager all those numbers are ultra-conservative.
Officials are tight-lipped when it comes to being up-front with the number of cases that have been resolved — with a conviction — of sexual assault cases.
Why is that?
Most likely, because it’s an embarrassingly low number compared to the number of sexual assaults that actually happen.
I understand sexual assault cases can be hard to prosecute; often times it may come down to the word of one soldier versus the word of another. That can put a commander in a very difficult spot.
Moreover, it can benefit a commander — especially one with a promotion in order — to not properly investigate a sexual assault charge. A sexual assault report can give a unit a black eye, and a commander of such a unit would have to deal with unwanted questions and problems.
The issue took center stage last week as the military’s top brass appeared before Congress, admitting they have failed to properly handle sexual assaults, but adamantly defending the traditional authority of commanders to order charges for crimes that occur in the unit. Military leaders also have the power to overturn convictions of sexual assault.
The senators, demanding changes be made to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, ripped into the high-ranking generals.
Harsh words were exchanged. But even worse are the crimes that have been committed against women and men by their fellow soldiers for decades. It’s time to find a way that sexual assault crimes in the military can be prosecuted with or without a commander’s consent.
Justice has a knack for finding its way to the surface eventually. And when it comes to sexual assault, the military is learning that the hard way.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.