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Assault from Within: Sexual Violence in the Military

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I was raised in a military family, which I suspect was due in part to proximity; we lived in a city with a large air force base. Most of the men I grew up with served in one branch or another. I formed friendships with kids whose families were stationed in my city. For a while, I participated in JROTC in high school. I felt like I was surrounded by the military at all times. When I decided against enlisting, people would either ask me why, usually with an insistent tone as though it’s magically the best option for everyone, or advise me that I made the right decision. Often, the latter statement came with the assumption that since I was female, there was a large chance that I would be sexually harassed at some point or another.

I mention this because this stigma has been linked to the armed forces for as long as I can remember. In 2011, Newsweek reported that women have a higher likelihood of being assaulted by a fellow soldier than be killed in combat.

Earlier this month, Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force Chief of Sexual-Assault Prevention, was arrested and charged with sexual battery. According to the report, Krusinski drunkenly groped a female victim in a parking lot. Upon his arrest, Krusinski was released from his position and is now pending investigation.

Sadly, Krusinski’s attack is merely one of an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults that occur annually in the military, and only a fraction of those cases are processed and investigated. Factor in the unknown percentage of victims who choose to remain silent against their assailants, and it’s unclear how many attacks go unreported. According to the annual report published by the Department of Defense, sexual assaults in the military occur at a frequency of more than 70 incidents per day. Over the past year, the numbers have increased by 6%. That’s estimated 7,000 more attacks than the previous year.

That’s a staggering amount for an agency that boasts proactive measures against sexual violence.

In an email, Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault survivors, wrote, “If these allegations are true, this is one more example on a long list of how fundamentally broken the military justice system and culture are. The idea that the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office could be arrested for sexual assault indicates the depth of the problem. It’s outrageous.”

Parrish is spot on; if preventative actions are not working, the system broken and is in desperate need of change. It is a dire situation when men and women in uniform -- people who are united to protect and serve the country -- are unable to respect one another. What’s worse, many cases are propagated by leaders or individuals of higher rank. If leadership is failing, what can we do to fix it?

There’s no easy solution for sexual harassment. Enforcing a stricter punishment can potentially lead to more aggressive threats toward victims. And despite what the “victim advocacy” programs claim, it’s obvious that assault survivors are in need of better protection. There’s a strong reluctance to report cases because of the backlash suffered by some survivors. 62% of victims who reported assault stated they felt re-victimized or retaliated against simply for standing up for themselves. The current standards of assault education and training is clearly failing.

Recently, the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 has been proposed, but has yet to go to vote. In essence, it should give more power to victims and grant them special lawyers during the legal process as well as increase the availability of assault response programs. It would also aim to eliminate conflicts of interest within the chain of command when charges are filed. As it stands currently, it's estimated that it won't even get past the committee deliberations.

Today, a Senate Armed Forces hearing will be convened. Perhaps the testimonies will shed some light on the current crisis at hand and a conclusion about which direction to take will be established. I'll post an update once I have more information.

UPDATE: There was an Armed Forces hearing to discuss the situation.

To learn more about sexual assault in the military, take a peek at the documentary, The Invisible War.

Originally published at Feminspire!

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