A new Pentagon report says the number of reported sexual assaults in the U.S. armed services rose in 2012 — to 3,374 from 3,192 in 2011. As many as 26,000 service members, mostly women, were assaulted last year, the report concludes.
Meanwhile, the officer who headed the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response unit has been charged with sexual battery. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinki has been relieved of his duties.
Since the Tailhook scandal 22 years ago — the after-party of a symposium at which 83 women and seven men were sexually assaulted — nothing has really changed. Each year since Tailhook, the Pentagon has put out an annual report on sex abuse in the military. And every year, harassment is the same or worse.
Pentagon officials are, again, officially appalled. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is ordering reforms to increase the accountability of commanding officers, who are at the heart of the problem.
The report makes clear that verbal harassment and display of objectionable material are widespread, and that command officers generally do not take complaints about them seriously. This culture of harassment feeds the actual assaults. Secretary Hagel is ordering military leaders to develop a “method to assess commanders” on their responses to issues of sexual harassment and hold them to account. Surely this is sincere.
But since such steps have been taken many times before, and all the pious words about accountability and remorse have been uttered over and over again throughout the years, it is hard to take them seriously.
Authority over issues of sexual assault and harassment must be taken away from command officers. They are the problem, so they cannot be the solution.
The military’s legal branches must be given the sole authority to investigate sexual harassment. A soldier who is harassed should be able to take a complaint straight to a legal investigating officer — not his or her superior officer.
This duty may require a separate new branch of the military legal system. The more female lawyers staffing it, the better.
No longer will promises and politically correct words cut it. To curb sexual harassment in the military, responsibility for investigation must be taken away from commanding officers who have failed to do their duty. We have had years of reporting the same old problem. We have to change the system.