The Military Is Next: America's Tide Is Turning Against Sexual Assault And Harassment


There is something vindicating about seeing the faces of “the silence breakers” on the cover of Time Magazine’s latest Person of the Year issue. These women (and men) had the courage to publicly call out sexual misconduct by powerful men in Hollywood, and their recognition is special for every person who has experienced sexual misconduct and felt the pressure to stay silent about it.

As a combat veteran, I chose to remain silent when I was assaulted in Iraq by a higher-ranking sergeant in 2003.

I was advised by senior male soldiers I admired to not report the incident formally. “You’re asking for a lot of trouble if you report this,” they advised. “Your career is more important than this.” I listened.

I have thought about that choice many times, and each time I feel guilty that my silence left the door open for the offender to do it again.

When silence gets baked into the system

The silence-breakers are changing that story. Instead of career devastation, the accusers who are coming forward are being celebrated, and many men in positions of power are suffering public career ruin that even an apology letter and time with a therapist won’t make right.

In the military, when a lower-ranking service member is assaulted by someone in a position of power, they must report this to their supervisor (through their chain of command) in order to file a complaint. Sometimes this “supervisor” can include the perpetrator, or a friend who is close to them.

This isn’t all that different from a young woman in Hollywood being forced to report her powerful producer’s sexual misconduct (i.e. Harvey Weinstein) to a member of the production company’s board of directors… or drop the subject. There isn’t a way to appeal to an authority who is not directly connected to, and perhaps even dependent upon, the abuser.

When the men and women serving our country can’t report sexual misconduct outside of their chain of command, victims will choose to not come forward. Sexual offenders will continue to fly under the radar, serve out a successful career, and evade consequences for their actions.

Lots of work left to do

Last spring, the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office published a report on military sexual assault in fiscal 2016. SAPRO’s findings were jarring: nearly 15,000 sexual assaults against service members that year alone. But 7 out of 10 service members did not report their assaults in an “unrestricted” (actionable) manner to their chain of command, showing a severe lack of confidence in the current system.

Of those who were brave enough to make an unrestricted report, approximately 60% told the Department of Defense that they had experienced some form of retaliation for reporting.

What did all of that personal risk get victims? Not much. More than 70% of cases considered for court-martial were never even referred to court-martial proceedings. And just 9% of cases ended in conviction.

In 2014, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat, introduced a bill that would have allowed service members to report sexual assaults to authorities outside of their chain of command.

That idea, however, didn’t sit well with senior military officials. who thought it impugned the good name of their services’ leaders. “Removing commanders from the military justice process sends the message to everyone in the military that there is a lack of faith in the officer corps, Gen. Martin Dempsey, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in a letter challenging Gillibrand’s bill. “Conveyance of a message that commanders cannot be trusted will only serve to undermine good order and discipline.”

The idea of maintaining confidence in commanders, even at risk of chilling some victims out of reporting their assaults, won the day. Gillibrand’s bill failed in favor of a lighter proposal introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat; notably, her bill kept the chain of command looped into sexual assault cases.

Progress is possible now

Nevertheless, improvements have been made to support victims of military sexual trauma. The Pentagon reported the estimated number of sexual assaults in the military has dropped from 20,300 in 2014 to 14,900 in 2016, and reporting rates are estimated to have increased by 9%.

Even though there is progress, Gillibrand has called the military sexual assault statistics for 2016 “appalling,” and she is continuing to fight for sexual assault victims’ rights, including those in our military.

Now may be a better time than ever for action. When I see the silence-breakers’ bravery and more offenders being brought to justice, I know this is progress. Regulatory reforms have been hard to come by, but cultural change is happening, and very rapidly. That means hope is coming for all of us — including the women and men serving our country.

Nichole Bowen-Crawford is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq.  She has appeared on CNN, NBC News, New Day Northwest, and KOMO News. Her veteran’s advocacy work with Senator Patty Murray was featured in the Seattle Times, and the LA Times. She has spoken in D.C. on behalf of Service Women’s Action Network to members of Congress to advocate for victims of military sexual trauma. Nichole has her M.Ed. in Counseling and Human Relations and is working on completing her book Lady Warrior Project: 22 True Stories of Combat, Triumph, and Healing by Fall 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @nichole_lwp.

U.S. Marine Corps

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.

The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

Read More Show Less