Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Congress: Here’s Why You Should Pass The Military Justice Improvement Act
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposed Military Justice Improvement Act of 2017 would attack the scourge of military sexual violence by removing prosecution authority over sexual assault from commanders. Congress should pass her bill.
Sexual violence is pervasive in our military. In 2016, DoD received 6,172 reports. Yet most victims do not report, leading DoD to estimate the actual number at 14,900. Despite DoD claiming success in this fight, reported sexual assaults rose almost 10% in 2017 to 6,796. Include those not reporting, and over 16,000 service men and women were victims last year.
Why would victims come forward? 58% of women and 60% of men who did faced retaliation, in most cases from their chains of command.
She was 19 when three men in her military police unit raped her. She reported it to her commander; but he believed the males, who claimed it was a consensual three-on-one orgy.
I was the judge in the Riverside County Veterans Court when a woman I will refer to as “Carla” — not her real name — stood before me charged with felony thefts. Inspired by her father, she enlisted at 18. “My dad was a Vietnam vet and believed in service,” she said. “He came to my graduation from basic. He was so proud of me. I was so proud to wear the uniform.”
She was 19 when three men in her military police unit raped her. She reported it to her commander; but he believed the males, who claimed it was a consensual three-on-one orgy. Ostracized, she began drinking heavily to relieve her depression. Her job performance fell. Eight months later, she was discharged.
Standing before me in court, Carla looked tired and beaten. If I hadn’t known she was 35, I would have guessed her to be 50. Bitter from her military experience, Carla had turned to methamphetamine, a common form of self-medication for people suffering from PTSD, as she was. I placed her on probation, where she was treated for depression, PTSD, and military sexual trauma.
Carla is not unique. A third of victims who come forward are discharged early — on average, 7 months after the report.
The commander makes the decision to prosecute sexual violence complaints. There is a misconception that leaders like Carla’s do not care about sexual assault. The overwhelming majority do support prosecution. Just not against one of theirs. Members of a military unit share the dangers. They guard each other’s flanks. They become close.
Please don’t blame society for the problem. Illicit drug use was once rampant in our military. It is now far below civilian levels.
Unless the victim was beaten, physical evidence is generally inconclusive or nonexistent, leaving the commander with a “he said, she said” situation. If the victim is newly assigned and the accused a long-time member, the commander is primed to disbelieve the complaint.
This happens at high levels. Lt. Col. James Wilkerson left the Air Force with full retirement benefits after a panel of senior officers convicted him of rape in 2013. Gen. Craig Franklin, however, set aside the verdict after reading 90 character letters from fellow officers, none of whom were present during the crime.
That’s the wrong approach. Rape hurts more than the victim, though justice for that person must be the prime goal. Nothing destroys unit morale quicker than a soldier getting away with rape. The occurrence of sexual violence is a sign that a commander is failing to maintain good order and discipline.
Please don’t blame society for the problem. Illicit drug use was once rampant in our military. It is now far below civilian levels. Winning the battle did not come, however, by teaching soldiers “healthy choices.” It came through identifying and punishing those abusing drugs.
DoD can win the war on sexual violence, too. But first, prosecutions must be brought, and that will happen with fairness and consistency only if we rely on unbiased experts outside the command. That’s why Congress should pass Senator Gilliland’s legislation.
The last time I talked to Carla, she was 18 months sober. She laughed and smiled, but she always seemed sad.
In 1986, I defended a soldier charged with rape. At sentencing, the prosecutor said something I never forgot: “There is a reason why the maximum punishment for rape is life, far more severe than for other crimes of violence. It is because rape destroys a woman’s soul.” He was right. It destroys men's, too. It’s time to do something.
E. (Mark) Johnson is a California Superior Court Judge. For five years he presided over the Riverside County Veterans Court, supervising the recovery of combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. He is a retired colonel of the United States Army Reserve, an Iraq War veteran, and a graduate of the Army War College.
Hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War have repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital
In an uh-oh episode of historic proportions, hand grenades from the last major battle of the Revolutionary War recently and repeatedly scrambled bomb squads in Virginia's capital city.
Wait – they had hand grenades in the Revolutionary War? Indeed. Hollow iron balls, filled with black powder, outfitted with a fuse, then lit and thrown.
And more than two dozen have been sitting in cardboard boxes at the Department of Historic Resources, undetected for 30 years.
BERRIEN COUNTY, MI -- The wife of an Army sergeant killed in December admitted that she planned his killing together with another man, communicating on Snapchat in an attempt to hide their communications, according to statements she made to police.
White supremacist Coast Guard officer stockpiled firearms and hit list of Democrats for mass terror attack
A Coast Guard lieutenant arrested this week planned to "murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," according to a court filing requesting he be detained until his trial.
At least 4 American veterans among group arrested in Haiti with arsenal of weapons and tactical gear
At least four American veterans were among a group of eight men arrested by police in Haiti earlier this week for driving without license plates and possessing an arsenal of weaponry and tactical gear.
Police in Port-au-Prince arrested five Americans, two Serbians, and one Haitian man at a police checkpoint on Sunday, according to The Miami-Herald. The men told police they were on a "government mission" but did not specify for which government, according to The Herald.
They also told police that "their boss was going to call their boss," implying that someone high in Haiti's government would vouch for them and secure their release, Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles told NPR.
What they were actually doing or who they were potentially working for remains unclear. A State Department spokesperson told Task & Purpose they were aware that Haitian police arrested a "group of individuals, including some U.S. citizens," but declined to answer whether the men were employed by or operating under contract with the U.S. government.
The State Department announced Wednesday that notorious ISIS bride Hoda Muthana, a U.S.-born woman who left Alabama to join ISIS but began begging to return to the U.S. after recently deserting the terror group, is not a U.S. citizen and will not be allowed to return home.