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February 12, 2014

In Our Opinion: Stop military's sexual assaults

The Daily Star

---- — If anyone had any doubt about the respect Congress has for the military, the almost two-minute-long thundering standing ovation received by wounded Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address should be all the evidence needed. 

Americans by and large are justly proud of the men and women who serve our nation around the world. But lurking under the surface is the chilling report earlier this year by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) of the Department of Defense. 

It revealed that an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in the U.S. military in 2012, a 37 percent increase from the previous year. 

Another Defense Department report said one in five female service members reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact. 

Those numbers are astoundingly troubling. According to the SAPRO report, 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who were subjected to the unwanted sexual contact said the offender was someone in their military chain of command. 

Not surprising given that horrid statistic, 50 percent of female victims said they didn’t report the incidents because they didn’t believe anything would be done. 

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Amos said this year that victims “don’t trust the chain of command.” 

The idea that our sons and daughters enlist to serve their country only to be the victims of sexual predators is outrageous. It is even more outrageous that efforts by a bipartisan group of senators to change the way our military handles sexual assault complaints are likely to fail in a vote this week. 

Liberal New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are on the same side. In fact, 53 senators support Gillibrand’s proposal to remove the military chain of command’s power to decide whether to try sexual assault cases. 

The senators want those decisions made by independent military prosecutors. A different, more-moderate overhaul bill is also receiving bipartisan support. but perhaps not enough to get the required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. 

The Pentagon is fighting anything that would change the status quo. It is fighting the wrong war on the wrong side. 

“Nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee has been sexually assaulted, except in the U.S. military,” said Gillibrand. 

Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act has the support of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Vietnam Veterans of America. 

We urge you to contact every senator you can and urge passage of the reform bill. If it fails, then we have failed to honor the ideals of the nation for which Sgt. Remsburg and so many other heroes have sacrificed so much.