Our military has a serious problem with sexual assaults and high ranking officers say they recognize it and are dealing with it. We hope so.
Cases have been brought to the attention of the public about rape and sexual assaults that have occurred. The number is alarming. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, has complained about a case in which an Air Force officer was convicted of sexual assault by an all-male jury and was sentenced to prison. His commanding general overturned the conviction and reinstated the officer, which apparently under the military code he has the authority to do.
Then there is the case of an Air Force officer who was in charge of reining in the sexual assault “epidemic” being charged with sexual battery himself. Also made public is the case of Sen. McCaskill holding up the appointment of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, a former astronaut, to become commander of the Air Force’s Space Command. Sen. McCaskill wants an investigation of Helms’ dismissal of an Air Force captain’s conviction for aggravated sexual assault.
These cases all involved Air Force officers, but there have been sexual assaults in the other branches also. A Pentagon report said that 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted last year, an increase of about 7,000 over the prior year. Of these, only 3,374 were actually reported. The 26,000 number came from anonymous surveys. The Pentagon knows that there is an unwillingness by military personnel to report assaults.
President Barack Obama expressed outrage at the report and the cases that have been in the news lately. If convicted, the guilty ones should be punished and given a dishonorable discharge, he said. We agree. But the president has a record of not following through on his recommendations, or he has been blocked by Congress.
The code that permits generals to overturn trial convictions should be reviewed. The Pentagon report which supports those who opposed allowing women to be in certain situations of “closeness” to men in the military had a point. However, women have fought for equality in the military and there is a fallout that we are witnessing. Women have served in the military honorably and with distinction.
As commander in chief, the president needs to stay engaged in this issue.