I was startled by the number of sexual assaults in the military and how they’re handled. Read this article by Lisa Maatz, AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, then do something about it (click on links).
Bear with me for a moment as I share some numbers:
- More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, making up 14.5 percent of the active-duty force.
- Nearly 3,200 cases of sexual assault in the military were reported in 2010, yet the Department of Defense estimates the actual number of assaults to be at least 19,000 since most cases are never reported.
- Of the sexual assault cases reported to military officials, only 8 percent of the attackers in those cases were prosecuted in the military court system – compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system.
Eight percent. And even if the military justice system convicts a perpetrator of sexual assault, the perpetrator’s commander, someone with no legal training whatsoever, can throw out that conviction at their own discretion – even the president of the United States cannot overturn their decision.
Yesterday I stood with two of our nation’s veterans as they recounted their experiences with sexual assault in the military. When Kelly Smith first reported her assault at age 19, investigators interrogated her for eight hours and accused her of lying. Although her attacker eventually signed a confession, Smith says he never appeared before a court martial and instead retired with full honors and benefits.
I also stood next to Jeremiah Arbogast, a retired Marine Corps member, who told his story from a wheelchair. He was left a paraplegic after his failed suicide attempt – a desperate action he took after he was sexually assaulted by a fellow Marine. As Arbogast said, we still have the world’s finest fighting force – but it is being threatened by too many sexual predators who are protected and allowed to stay in the military.
I joined these truly courageous veterans and our congressional champions on Capitol Hill yesterday to call for passage of the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act, which would create an independent, professional office within the military to investigate, and prosecute sexual assault, instead of leaving the decisions in the hands of commanders who can act at their own discretion. The STOP Act would still keep the authority over sexual assault cases in the military—just not in the hands of individual commanders who are not trained to handle these cases. AAUW believes the result will be the kind of confidential and thorough investigative process necessary in the face of such crimes.
Join me in urging your representative to cosponsor the STOP Act and fundamentally change how sexual assault is handled in the military.
We have to do something about those numbers I mentioned. We have to do something to prevent experiences like those of Kelly Smith and Jeremiah Arbogast from happening again. Urge your representative to cosponsor the STOP Act (H.R. 1593) today.