(11/11/13) It’s been said millions of times: Freedom isn’t free. No one knows this better than a veteran of America’s armed forces. So, before anything else, we want to take a moment to say thank you on this Veterans Day to everyone who has worn our nation’s uniforms for both their service and their sacrifice–and we ask anyone reading this to do the same.
With that said, while those who served have done much to protect and defend us, we have to ask: Who is protecting and defending them? As we track various sex trends impacting Americans, we are disturbed to find that among many serious issues facing today’s service members is the growing problem of sexual assault–and it’s a concern that’s well justified. Earlier this year, the Department of Defense (DoD) published a study that found a significant year-over-year increase in sexual assault cases (26,000 in 2012 vs. 19,000 the year before–a 37% jump). With these kinds of staggering numbers obviously trending in the wrong direction, it’s pretty clear that the chain of command needs immediate help–and you would think they’d welcome it when offered. Apparently, not so much.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is currently pushing legislation for the 2014 defense bill (scheduled for debate in less than two weeks) that establishes a simple, independent system for handling and prosecuting military sexual assault complaints. The DoD is vehemently opposing it on the grounds that they believe military prosecutions should remain within military chain of command. Ordinarily, given the unique nature of military life and its specific system for maintaining order and discipline (known as the Uniformed Code of Military Justice), this might make sense, but the disaster in progress obviously demands otherwise. It’s evident that the system in place has not only failed, it’s growing worse. Even top military commanders recognize this. After the study noted above was released, the Army’s Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, commented,
“Our Army is based on a bedrock of trust – the trust between Soldiers and leaders that we will take care of each other. Recent incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment demonstrate that we have violated that trust. In fact, these acts violate everything our Army stands for. They are contrary to our Army Values and they must not be tolerated.”
Indeed, they must not be tolerated, but if the existing system permitted these admitted violations of trust, then it’s clearly time for change. It may not be popular to break with a traditional tenet of military life, but popular tradition is a poor excuse for maintaining a failed course. Responsible leadership recognizes when help is needed–and embraces it enthusiastically when offered. By all means, the chain of command should retain responsibility for improving preventive measures, but when those measures fail, GIs need to have a safe place to go with their complaints that exists outside the chain that failed them. It’s as simple as that.
The bottom line: Senator Gillibrand is offering a reasonable approach to addressing the rising problem of sexual assault in the military. Implementing it hinges on the widespread support of the Senate when it votes on the National Defense Authorization in just a few days. You can have a direct impact on helping to fix this serious issue by voicing your position on the matter to your state’s Senators (here is the Senate’s email directory) and by sharing this article widely throughout your social circles so that others may consider doing the same. (The “share” button is just below the article.) Please honor those who serve on this Veterans Day by taking just a few moments to help protect and defend them.
For everyone who wears America’s military uniform, the day eventually comes where it’s put away for the last time. On that day, the Veteran should be able to look back on their time of service fondly, with satisfaction and with tremendous pride–not with shame, despair or sorrow. This Veterans Day, please take a moment to do something special that not only addresses a serious problem now, but also positively impacts countless future Vets to come.