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June 5, 2013 at 11:37 AM

Military sexual abuse: Congress must take action

Ick. Gross. Unacceptable. Stop military sexual abuse. Now.

That’s my gut reaction after watching a good portion of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing Tuesday. The nation’s top military leaders were ordered to appear on Capitol Hill to testify on the issue of curbing sexual abuse. Over and over, they promised zero tolerance for assaults within their ranks, yet they refused to change a status quo process that allows those crimes to persist and often go unreported. (Go to this link to watch the C-SPAN video. The hearing included three witness panels and lasted several hours.)

As Congress investigates the growing epidemic of sexual assaults within the military, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing to demand answers from top uniformed leaders about whether a drastic overhaul of the military justice system is needed, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

As Congress investigates the growing epidemic of sexual assaults within the military, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing to demand answers from top uniformed leaders about whether a drastic overhaul of the military justice system is needed, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Credit goes to the seven female members of the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee for bringing a much needed perspective to the table. For years, the male-dominated committee has wrestled with this issue and swept it under the rug, as reported in this June 2 New York Times news story.

During Tuesday’s hearing, we heard a little bit from the “old guard” in the form of this comment from U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who opposes a bill that would shift the power to pursue allegations from commanders to military lawyers: “Gee whiz … the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur. So we’ve got to be very careful in how we address it.”

What? Someone rewind that video and let the senator listen to himself.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mont., questions military leaders as the Senate Armed Services Committee investigates the growing epidemic of sexual assaults within the military, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mont., questions military leaders as the Senate Armed Services Committee investigates the growing epidemic of sexual assaults within the military, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was right to point out to the panel before her, “While you are all so dedicated and determined, not all commanders are objective, not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force, not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is, not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all these crimes together.”

Gillibrand and fellow senators, including Claire McCaskill, D-Mont., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., knocked down the excuses for why abuse remains so prevalent and pointed out several cases of clear misjudgment by some commanders. “You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases. They’re afraid to report. They think their careers will be over,” Gillibrand said.

(Watch their comments in this CBS News video). Here’s news video from CNN’s YouTube channel, including clips from the emotionally charged hearing:

The Seattle Times published this editorial last month calling on Congress to take “immediate steps to protect American service members from this shameful epidemic.” Here’s a glimpse of the statistics released by the Department of Defense: 3,374 military members reported being raped or sexually abused within a one-year period that ended in September 2012. Within that same time frame, a separate confidential survey of 108,000 active-duty service members led researchers to estimate there were about 26,000 victims in all — a 35 percent spike from the previous year.

No one should be OK with those dismal numbers. The military won’t change itself. Congress has to step in, and it looks like they are prepared to do so.

It’s a really sad day when a Navy veteran and former Vietnam War prisoner like U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., discourages women from signing up for the military until this crisis is resolved. “Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not,” McCain stated. Watch his comments in the video below, courtesy of McCain’s YouTube channel.

Comments | More in Video | Topics: armed forces, congress, military

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