The Military and Sexual Assault

Sexual harassment and assualt in the military are very real and concerning problems. Unfortunately, as with civilians, there is a lot of gray area regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused. American Thinker interviewed those who feel a new system must be put in place.

The current system is outdated, does not provide for impartial investigative teams, and gives too much power to those who sometimes have an agenda or a vendetta against the accused or accuser. To understand the inadequacies of the current system, some cases must be examined involving differing degrees of sexual harassment or abuse.

Army PFC LaVena Johnson was found dead on a military base in Iraq in 2005. The U.S. Army ruled her death a suicide even though an independent autopsy report and photographs revealed she had a broken nose, black eye, loose teeth, burns from a corrosive chemical on her genitals, and a gunshot wound inconsistent with suicide. Her father, Dr. John Johnson, told American Thinker he blames the Pentagon for not conducting an independent investigation. "I could talk with you for days about the inconsistencies but let's just focus on the gunshot wound. They said my daughter, who was only 5'1, stuck an M16 rifle into her mouth and pulled the trigger. The damage to her head should have been horrific, which it was not. The hole was not consistent in size with a suicide. The investigators I hired found she was shot with a handgun, a 9 mm Beretta. People that served with her are afraid to come forward for fear it would affect their career, but they told me she was raped and murdered. I know the process needs to be changed because in my daughter's case rank has its privilege over justice. I will continue to search for her killer."

A former NCO female military interrogator told American Thinker she was sexually harassed twice in her career. She feels the problem is the perception that everything must be handled internally within the unit so it does not get smeared. The first incident occurred when a former respected instructor went out to lunch with her and her friends and began drinking. He came on to her and "was really mean to the guy I was with who also knew him. Over a two-week period he stated sending me flowers, coming to see me, and even wrote a love letter. Even though I told him to back off he kept up his romantic intentions to a point he became a stalker. After I spoke to my platoon sergeant he was told to stay away from me. Thankfully, I never heard from him again."

The other incident occurred when she was certifying her E-5 rank. Towards the end of the training she and three other females were ordered to the offices of the staff noncommissioned officers. "We were basically separated and one of the NCOs closes the door and starts to ask me personal questions. I told him that it was inappropriate and left. After I told the 1st sergeant the whole incident and asked him to contact the provost marshall, the NCO calls me down and confronts me in his office. I decided to make a formal complaint so this would never happen again. The first report by some lieutenant was biased, with the findings of insufficient evidence. To the credit of the first commander he asked for an investigation where my complaint was substantiated and a formal reprimand letter was put into the permanent record."

She went on to comment that while she was an NCO, her male counterparts asked her to deal with the female soldiers who were slacking. "I understand the other side because they are worried that some female would try to get back at them by accusing them of something and ruining their career. The problem is that reporting directly to the chain of command can involve other motivations."

That is what exactly happened in the next case where Marine officer Brian Stann was accused of sexual assault as described in the book All American by Steve Eubanks. After he and a dozen other Marines celebrated they all crashed at his rental house. A female Marine asked to share his bedroom but eventually felt uncomfortable and went to sleep in another room. Brian swears nothing happened but she saw things differently. Everyone else in the house noted that the next day they all ate breakfast together and watched football. The female Marine was described as "friendly, chatty, and having a good time." This was a case where he felt certain activities were consensual and she claimed they were forced. Brian told American Thinker, "I felt my life, career, and reputation was in limbo. It doesn't matter whether you're innocent the allegations alone are like a scarlet letter."

Approximately nine months later his court martial convened. He was found not guilty, in part, because the accuser had made similar false accusations in the past, and had threatened to take public action if charges were not filed. It was determined that she had invented the story. In fact, during the trial she was asked pointed questions in which it became obvious she had lied. Brian is frustrated that "my life was put on hold while the other party was allowed to move on. She never got punished for falsely accusing me. I did not trust women for a very long time. It was all about politics and emotions."

In another case a former female Air Force commander told of an instance where a young female officer told everyone of her affair with a senior officer. "She was totally wrong. This poor guy went through the wringer for two years until he was exonerated. This is a case where a woman abused her power against a male. However, remember many times the cases are not black and white and there is a lot of gray. I have seen and know of other cases where sexual assault did happen. Unfortunately, it could not reach the threshold of proof so the accused was found not guilty."

Another problem is that a general, who becomes the sole review board, can overturn convictions. A recent case involves Air Force lieutenant colonel James Wilkerson, who was accused by a civilian employee of sexual assault. According to the prosecution, Wilkerson, in the middle of the night, decided to leave his wife sleeping in bed, walk downstairs past the room of his only son and then decided to commit the egregious crime of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman whom he and his wife had met earlier that night. After he was found guilty, his friends called this an outrageous injustice. Colonel Robert Harvey wrote a book, The Whole Truth, claiming that there was no physical evidence and conflicting testimony. General Franklin, who reviewed the case, appeared to agree, noting he had a hard time believing that the defendant, Lt. Col. Wilkerson, could have committed "the egregious crime of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman" given that he was "a doting father and husband" who had been selected for promotion.

Retired major Glenn MacDonald, who originally put himself in the Wilkerson supporter category, says the problem is that not the general, nor any of the lieutenant colonel's friends, or the lieutenant colonel himself brought out the fact that Wilkerson committed adultery, including having a child out of wedlock while serving. He now believes that this is not a black and white case of innocence but drops into the gray area because Wilkerson was not forthcoming and refused to testify on his own behalf during the court martial.

These cases illustrate that there must be reforms to the system that are fair for both the accused and accuser. Unfortunately, the commander-in-chief has only uttered hyperbolic rhetoric: "So I don't just want more speeches or awareness programs or training." But unlike President Obama, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has attempted to find solutions to this problem. He has cosponsored an amendment with Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) to protect good order and discipline and to prevent violent crime. They looked at blueprints from other countries, such as Canada, Israel, and Great Britain, which have instituted reforms in the military. The senators called for these necessary reforms: the establishment of an impartial independent military prosecutor to pursue any complaint, and for the commanding officer to be taken out of the equation. Senator Cruz's communications director, Sean Ruston, told American Thinker, "The senator's focus is on helping the military improve its system for handling sexual assaults, to ensure an objective military officer will make the system more fair so that all sides are heard from and are appropriately protected."

Because of the flawed process of determining military sexual assault cases, reform is needed. The commander effectively controls the outcome and many times has a conflict of interest. He/she is the one to make the decision to file or not file charges against an alleged offender, and in most circumstances is the same commander for both the accused and the accuser. The commander also appoints the jury, which could impair impartiality and objectivity. What Senator Cruz and Senator Gillibrand have proposed may well serve to ensure safety and fairness for all soldiers. But there is also the need to reform the review process after a verdict is rendered where a general by a stroke of a pen can invalidate a sentence.

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

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