Curtain Raiser

A Short-Sighted Sex Assault Bill, Colltalers

The most recent proof that the U.S. military seems incapable of prosecuting cases of sexual abuse within its ranks was on display again last week. Lt.Col.William Helixon, the Army’s lead prosecutor in the sexual assault court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, has quit.
His resignation is a de facto derailment, at least from now, of the case against Brig.Gen. Jeffrey, who’s accused of having an extra-marital affair with an unidentified captain under his command, who also claimed that she was forced to perform sex acts even after she’d ended the relationship.
Reportedly, Lt.Col. Helixon wasn’t convinced enough of the woman’s sincerity, which is typical of sexual crime cases, when the accuser has to endure suspicions that the claims are fabricated, while the accused’s rarely prosecuted. The case may also put an end to her professional career.
To many, though, the prosecutor may have been afraid of where the case could lead to, and represent to his own career, an issue at the heart of two competing bills, sponsored by Sens. Kristin Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill, being considered by Congress since November.
On the surface, they are pretty similar. They both finally address the ingrained culture of sexual assault in the military, a fact that albeit heavily tilted against women, has also its smaller share of male victims. This is but a single case, by the way; there were over 20 thousand in 2012 alone.
The crucial difference is that Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal would’ve have independent military prosecutors pursuing sexual allegations, instead of members of the victims’ chain of command. Of course, the Pentagon and many lawmakers oppose it and may support Sen. McCaskill’s more hierarchy-mindful version. Her bill may prevail and be voted as early as this month, but the Sinclair affair just shows how wrong its approach is.
Similarly to what happens in the civilian population, but even more exacerbated in the military, rape is never about sex, but power and subjugation. Understatement aside, it’s a brutal, damaging, and long lasting mechanism to impose control and crush dissent. It’s been used as weapon of war since humans have been around, and is still used to settle ethnic and tribal disputes in far corners of the planet.
That it happens in the U.S. military, the world’s most powerful army, though, and not nearly taken as seriously as it should, is just unacceptable. The organization has been dragging its feet to pursue cases of sexual abuse, and the lack of impartiality in military trials is a serious impediment.
But corporations always place their own interests above those of their own members. Just see the extent that the Catholic Church, for instance, and the Boy Scouts of America, and Penn State, and the NFL, even, went to stonewall scrutiny and protect their business, never mind the victims.
Those who’re part of the inner cogs of these and other big assembly lines of power, who have invested a big chunk of their lives and dreams to climb the ladder to the upper echelons, may lose everything if they dare to point fingers at superiors, even when they’re also their tormentors.
Sometimes attempts to cloud the issue by the military could even be taken as comical, if the subject was one to be distilled down to a few jokes. In Oct., the Navy released the Commander’s Guide to Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which seems to have spent more time coming up with a title than it did researching the subject with any depth and scientific zeal.
One of the highlights of the report, and wouldn’t you know it, is that ‘false allegations of sexual assault are a (whooping) 3% per NCIS data,’ which is a reference to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, according to Stripes.com, a site focused on military issues.
The puzzling piece of statistics invoked by the report, however, has no acknowledged source or where it’s been originated from, which Stripes finds to be a ‘dubious’ claim, given the overwhelming majority of cases that are proved beyond doubt, even when not fully pursued by victims.
Despite such attempts at diversion, there seems to be a troubling increase in the number of U.S. soldiers expelled for crimes or misconduct, not necessarily of a sexual nature, from military bases in Japan to the trenches in Afghanistan, according to data reported by AP.
And then there are the pundits and experts to harp on the issue too, which is not always conducive of any progress about it. An often used term is ‘culture of rape,’ and how our servicemen are becoming monsters, getting away with acts of depravity with no fear of persecution.
But here’s the thing. To throw the blame exclusively on the troops, and even their immediate commanders, for what seems to be essentially a built-in characteristic of a mostly male-dominated enclosed society (yes, we’re talking about you church, scouts, and football leagues), would exempt the rest of society, which means us, from any responsibility not just on the matter itself, but for the whole circumstances leading to it.
For what about the real culture of war we’ve been all thrown in, which has placed the U.S. at the center of non-stop armed conflicts around the world for over a decade now, and arguably, even before that, always relying on a tiny segment of its general population to do the fighting.
It’s important to resist the urge to pile on top of that mostly anonymous contingent of hundreds of thousands of Americans who we’re sending and resending away to take bullets for us, while mining any prospects for their successful integration back into society.
Worse, the majority of these young lives we’ve tossed out of our public focus, is coming back in troves deeply wounded, with much fewer prospects of pursuing a productive life than when they’ve left. The ever growing backlog of disability claims rotting at the Vets Administration should be a source of national shame, along with the staggering number of former combatants who’re now homeless and/or mentally ill or both.
For a nation whose defense budget dwarfs that of a combined dozen others, and whose foreign policies have been dictated more by the power of its drones than by the strength of its morals, we’re doing a particularly nasty job at betraying those who we demand to give up their lives for us.
In the case of a countless number of female soldiers and high ranked uniformed Americans, the betrayal starts from almost their first tour of duty, and they shouldn’t have to endure the cold shoulder of military justice on top of what was done to their personal integrity.
We do hope that the case of Brig. Gen. Sinclair continues on, despite its momentary derailment. It’d be a travesty if the former commander with the 82nd Airborne Division, who’s chosen to deny responsibility while posing for the now customary picture alongside his supporting wife, would be able to resume his career, while his accuser, and other alleged victims of his sexual proclivities, would have to shut up and fade to obscurity. Have a great snowless week. WC

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