Fort Hood Prostitution Ring Trial Begins, Sexual Assault Bill Still Stalled

This is sure to be a dramatic trial. Female soldiers at Fort Hood allege that they were recruited for a prostitution ring, and on Tuesday, their case entered its second day. The soldiers say the ring was run by a sergeant at the base, a noncommissioned officer charged with coordinating sexual assault prevention programs at the base. Other officers, including Master Sergeant Brad Grimes — a 17-year veteran of the armed forces — are being court marshaled in the case for allegedly utilizing the ring’s services. Grimes is accused of refusing to testify against the soldier running the ring, though he claims he ultimately backed out of using its services.

"At the end of the day, Master Sgt Grimes chose to do the right thing and not have sex with that young lady," said his lawyer, Daniel Conway. "This is really a case about sex parties, and Master Sgt Grimes had nothing to do with that."

The name of the noncommissioned officer believed to have run and organized the ring has not yet been released. (Why does it feel like this case should be a Law & Order: SVU episode? Um, maybe because there was just an episode very similar to this on the show.)

The case points to much deeper problems within the armed forces: the prostitution ring was run by the same person entrusted with preventing sexual harassment and assault from occurring on the base. For female members of the armed forces, who are already under a lot of pressure and are frequent targets of assault, this sergeant took away the one safe haven they were supposed to have.

As we've reported, sexual assault is a huge problem in the armed forces: 26,000 service members reported receiving unwanted sexual contact in 2012 on an anonymous survey, but less than 3,500 such incidents were reported to authorities. That’s because reporting such assault is taboo, and many fear it might hurt their careers.

New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill that would allow prosecutors — not commanders — to decide whether to prosecute military sexual assault cases, in an effort to give victims a semi-independent person in their corner. But the bill failed to pass before the Thanksgiving recess, and will only be considered again when the senate returns next week.