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    Posted April 28, 2013 by
    San Diego, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Women: Share your stories of change

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    Part Three, Beyond Spectating: Predators and the Pentagon


    According to the Bureau of Justice (BOJ), the majority of civilian rapes and sexual assaults are not reported to the police. In fact, more than 54 percent of rapes are not reported and of those, only 12 percent of alleged rapists will be arrested, nine percent prosecuted, and only five percent convicted. Regrettably, one of the primary factors continues to be the taboo nature in which sex offenses are socially perceived and the legal system itself.


    The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) sheds light on victim hesitancy. According to them, the most common reason given by victims for not reporting rape is that they are ashamed, and fear reprisal, as well as police bias. Understandable given that statistically, reporting rarely leads to a conviction, and there is little guarantee that if reported the rapist will gain conviction, or that a guilty verdict will result in jail time. Particularly under Military law.


    A December 2011 report stated that sexual assault charges at military academies were up 58 percent from 2010. Regrettably, it’s also been estimated that less than 10 percent of assaults are reported. Less than 10 percent.


    The reality doesn’t improve much for graduates. The Department of Defense (DoD) Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for Fiscal year 2011 stated that 3,192 sexual assaults had been reported. But, according to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, that figure represents only 13 percent of the rapes/sexual assaults estimated to have been committed. Panetta stated that despite the official report, 19,000 sexual assaults are alleged to have occurred in the Navy/Marines, Air Force, and Army. (The United States Coast Guard, not housed within the DoD, is the only military branch not required by Congress to submit the number of sexual assaults reported.)


    Rather than practice zero tolerance per the Federal sexual discrimination policy, military leaders are being charged with demonstrating zero tolerance towards whistle blowing victims. Nineteen current and former service members filed suit in California’s northern District Court (Case No. C12 05049 DMR) last September against Panetta as well as predecessors Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld, and six current and former heads of the Marine Corps and Navy.


    The suit states that permitting a single individual in the chain of command to manage sexual assault allegations infringes upon the civil rights of those enlisted, and perpetuates an environment in which rape is rampant and victims are subject to retaliation. The case is one of five pending in district or circuit courts, alleging that defendants knew the military violated constitutional rights of victims, that they were consciously presiding over a dysfunctional judiciary system, and that they were repeatedly unresponsive to the problem. One of the cases (now awaiting appeal) was dismissed, the judge having ruled rape to be an occupational hazard of military service, which, frankly, begs the question: who exactly is the enemy?


    At a Senate hearing held in March, former Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Lewis testified before lawmakers that sexual assault and rape such as what he experienced while in service is "epidemic" in the armed forces due, in large part, to the conflict of interest inherent within the military justice system.


    "Service members must report rape to their commanders,” Lewis told Congress. “However, if their commanders take action and prove that rape occurred, they also prove a failure of their own leadership."


    It has been estimated that more than half a million service women have been sexually assaulted. Government studies reveal that more than 80 percent of raped service women did not report. They also show 33 percent not reporting specifically because the person to whom they were supposed to report to was a friend of the rapist. Wait—it gets worse—25 percent of them didn’t report because the unit commander was their rapist. That’s 58 percent of the silent 80 percent selecting to not report sex crimes solely due to lack of impartiality.


    Last April, Secretary of Defense Panetta removed sole discretion from unit commanders, requiring instead sex crimes to be reported to and handled by senior commanders. Until his proclamation, the Uniform Code of Military Justice required victims to report sexual assaults to their unit commander who often personally knows both the victim and the perpetrator. Under the revised Code, sex crimes are now reported to senior commanders who, being a few ranks removed, are expected to demonstrate impartiality despite the fact that they have no legal experience. Serving as the convening authority, senior commanders are empowered with the authority to exercise sole discretion or more precisely, command prerogative, in prosecuting or dismissing cases. They even have the unquestioned power to overrule convictions and sentences without being required to provide written justification for revising court rule.


    Not surprisingly, victims and their supporters doubt that Panetta’s revision will be enough and continue pushing for the creation of an impartial third-party justice system that falls outside the influence of chain of command. The H.R. 3435: Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act proposed in 2011 would have established an independent entity entrusted with rape/assault investigations that would have been outside the chain of military command; it, however, has yet to be enacted.


    Consequently, nearly 70 percent of substantiated actionable cases do not go to trial based on the sole discretion of lower-level command and only 8 percent of sexual assailants are referred to military court. The 65 assaults reported at military academies in 2011 resulted in but a single court-martial.


    Removing sole discretion from unit commanders may improve the numbers reporting sex crimes, but fear of retaliation is still a factor when 90 percent of the victims who have reported were subsequently involuntarily discharged, many with misdiagnosed personality disorders effectively prohibiting them from receiving benefits and impairing their ability to acquire gainful employment. Hard earned careers are at stake—let alone valuable benefits and pensions, yet given the available data, there appears to be little defensive recourse for the country’s defenders who year after year are being assaulted from within the ranks and marginalized by the very officers who are supposed to be supporting them? Lends a whole new meaning to the term “friendly fire”.


    Lewis urged Congress not to ignore men as "invisible" as it’s been estimated that 56 percent of active duty sexual assault victims are male, which may simply reflect current demographics in that there are more service men than women.


    "We cannot marginalize male survivors and send a message that men cannot be raped,” Lewis said. The fact that 10,000 service men reported sex crimes in 2011 would suggest that they indeed can be, and in fact, are.


    Michael Matthews, a 58 year old career Air Force veteran who kept his rape secret for nearly 30 years before finally telling his wife, agrees that nobody wants to talk about it.


    Although rape is a crime of violence stemming from an aggressive assertion of power and domination, the issue of men raping men stirs up the homophobes and unleashes a host of inaccurate assumptions, such as a man would only rape another man if he were gay. The truth is the majority of perpetrators identify themselves as heterosexual despite the sex of the persons they violate.


    “It’s not about gay sex,” argued Dr. Loree Sutton, retired Army brigadier general and psychiatrist. “Typically, the predators are heterosexual men who have this need to assert power, control and dominance.”


    Clinically, rape is an addiction, emphasized Russell Strand, Chief of the Army’s Family Advocate Law Enforcement Training division. He claimed the average sex offender over the course of their lives victimizes 300 people. And when so few rapists receive convictions in military courts, and those that do are often able get their felony charge dropped, military perpetrators are not included in the National Sex Offender data base. Instead, they—trained warriors-- are released back into home towns across America free to proceed raping. Only now, they are well equipped with a honed knowledge of legal loopholes as well as forensic science.


    DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is responsible for oversight of the Department's sexual assault policy and has contracted RAINN to develop a online and telephone hotline in support of active military victims of sexual assault. Foremost on its addenda is risk management, increasing education and training among military personnel through programs such as that offered regionally by the San Diego Police Department.

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