Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Steps Up–Here's Why the Military Needs to Stand Down

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation that would have military prosecutors decide whether a sexual assault or other criminal cases should go to trial, instead of a unit commander–who may not be objective in the issues. The push for the bill was prompted by a rise in military rapes along with a number of high-profile scandals in recent weeks. Gillibrand argued that other countries, including some European allies and Israel, have made similar changes to their own military legal codes with successful results.

Although the military has voiced its intent to stamp out the “cancer” of sexual assaults, as described by CBS News, chiefs of every military branch met the legislation with rigid opposition. Surprise, surprise. The upper echelons band together to protect their reign.

Defenses upheld the virtue of the military chain of command and emphasized commanders’ reliance on experienced judge advocate generals for guidance in criminal matters.

According to CNN, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the top Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, maintained that he is opposed to any legislation "removing commanders from their indispensable roles" in the military justice system. “There's a risk of unintended consequences if we act with haste without thorough and thoughtful review," Senator Inhofe said.

I can't even. Because assailants should be considered too, right? No....just no.

Thankfully, Senator Gillibrand was a bulldog during the congressional hearing. She stressed that there are commanders who are not objective and who don't want women in the military in the first place.

You’re kidding! There’s still sexism in an institution as fundamental to the fabric of American society as the military? That someone even had to state such an obvious fact is enough to cue several eye rolls. I can imagine that hit a nerve for a few military chiefs, though.

Senator Gillibrand did not stop there, however. The Democratic firecracker said there are commanders who don't know the difference between a “slap on the ass and rape”, as reported by CNN. Excuse me for a minute while I snap furiously.

The Senator also said that sexual assault victims in the military may be “afraid to report” the crime to their superior officers. “They think their careers will be over. They fear retaliation. They fear being blamed."

The unfortunate reality? Senator Gillibrand is absolutely right. Military or not, sexual assault victims are often scared into silence for fear of being blamed for what happened to them. The public attitude towards victims is largely a skeptical one–one that seeks to search for a scapegoat in the victim’s actions. To add insult to injury, the concern for the assailant’s life and reputation often overwhelms concern for justice for the victim. And when victims are met with grave suspicion for coming forward, there is a fear of being honest about this complete and utter violation.

Let’s not be naïve. “Rape culture” is very much a real phenomenon and I believe that the military’s opposition to Senator Gillibrand’s bill is just another means of upholding this sad trend.

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