Kentucky voices

Ky. Voices: Military justice bill protects victims of sexual assault

August 23, 2013 

Combatting sexual abuse and assault in the military is an ongoing battle and our nation's current policy has failed, according to General James F. Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Amos says that victims of sexual assault in the armed forces often do not come forward to report crimes because they "don't trust the chain of command."

In fact, 50 percent of sexual abuse victims in the military admitted they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done about it, according to a report from the military's own Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Under current policy, a service member experiencing unwanted sexual contact is instructed to report the crime up through his or her chain of command.

Unfortunately, in some cases, someone in that chain could also be the very perpetrator who has committed the crime.

According to the aforementioned report, 25 percent of servicewomen and 27 percent of men received unwanted sexual contact from someone in their chain of command. Of the victims who reported a sexual assault, 62 percent perceived some form of retaliation.

We cannot allow this epidemic of sexual abuse to continue.

The Department of Defense claims to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to addressing sexual crimes, but year after year (and victim after victim) the status quo remains. It is past time to provide a safe harbor for our men and women in uniform.

The great majority of our service members are principled and upstanding individuals, which only adds to the necessity for an allegation to be taken seriously and to be handled without a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Many members of Congress have already recognized these realities and are doing something about it, including Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul, a Republican. How often does an issue bring together Democrats and Republicans, establishment and Tea Party, liberal and conservative?

Sponsored by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, the Military Justice Improvement Act seeks to reverse the systemic fear that victims of military sexual assault have described in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them. Paul has signed on as a co-sponsor and should be commended for it, as have more than 30 other senators from both parties.

The Military Justice Improvement Act implements a system of independent, trained military prosecutors handling decisions about whether serious crimes go to trial. Transferring the responsibility of investigation and prosecution of these crimes to legal experts eliminates potential conflicts of interest and ensures justice for alleged victims and the accused.

I am a firm believer that good policy makes good politics, and I think U.S. senators who support the Military Justice Improvement Act will find themselves in the good graces of voters back home.

We have the finest military in the world and all of our soldiers deserve our support and protection from unwanted sexual advances. The Military Justice Improvement Act accomplishes that goal.

Kelly Knight is a Glasgow native who now resides in Lexington and Tulsa, Okla. She served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly under President George W. Bush.

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