The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Washington’s enablers of sexual assault in U.S. military

Sexual assault in the military is a crime. Cluelessness should be, too. Then, perhaps, the gaggle of gob-smacked military leaders who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week — and their enablers on the committee — could be prosecuted, convicted and sent on their way. And we’d be left with officials, both bemedaled and elected, who really want to come down hard on this scourge.

Unfortunately, the takeaway from Tuesday’s hearing, in which military bemoaned rape in the ranks while defending their ineffective ways of handling it, was that the issue remains all about power, as in, holding on to it.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill took the lead in grilling the recalcitrants in uniform. Both are sponsoring proposals that would give victims of sexual assault a fighting chance of having the attacker actually convicted and making such convictions far more difficult to overturn. Ms. Gillibrand wants to remove prosecution from the chain of command and hand it over to real military lawyers. Ms. McCaskill wants to jettison the ability for commanders to throw out guilty verdicts willy-nilly.

Neither got much help from some of their colleagues on the committee. “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 how we address it on our side.” That was Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., getting to the root of the problem. It’s just a matter of the birds and the bees.

No, it’s a matter of stunning tone-deafness to the issue of sexual assault. It’s a matter of forcing women and men who have been victimized to respond to this physical and emotional degradation with the same stoicism with which they are taught to withstand explosive attacks on the battlefield. It’s all about discipline, right?

Of course, it is. But why, then, do the sexual transgressors seem to be the only ones who 1. don’t have to discipline their own violent acts — yes rape is an act of violence — and 2. have little fear of disciplinary action from their superiors?

This is the shame of the military. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has mouthed all the right words of shock and compassion. But now what? Perhaps it’s time for those military leaders who are standing in the way to be sent on their way.

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