By Representative Karen Speier
Next year, some 30,000 young women will sign up to serve in our country's military. Absent from the glossy recruitment brochures is the tragic fact that one in three women in the military will be raped or sexually assaulted by a colleague or superior during her career. Unless serious reforms are made to the military justice system, these crimes will continue to tear at troop morale and readiness.
Women, and men, join the service with a sense of honor and duty, but not to become victims of military sexual trauma. In 2011, the Pentagon argued in civilian court that rape and sexual assault are just "occupational hazards" of joining the military. In what civilian career would rape be an acceptable hazard of the job?
The Pentagon estimates that 19,000 rapes or sexual assaults are committed each year in the military by service members on other service members, but only 13.5% of the victims actually report the crimes.
Last year, only 3,200 victims reported the attacks and very few, only 191 cases, resulted in a court-martial conviction.
It is perfectly understandable that victims are loath to report rape and assault. If they report, they face ostracism, rebuke and a "sure-fire" exit from the military with a personality disorder discharge.
In a widespread sex-abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex., 15 military training instructors have been charged or are being investigated for sexual misconduct with at least 38 recruits.
While some high-ranking members of Congress do not want to believe that this problem is widespread, it is clear that what is happening at Lackland is a disturbing example of the systemic epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military.
Increasing the rate of prosecutions will change the culture of acceptance in the military. But increasing the prosecution rate is not an easy task; it will require a serious change to the way that cases of rape and sexual assault are handled. Currently, commanding officers determine the path that reported offenses will take.
It is time to rid the military justice system of this inherent conflict of interest.
HR 3435, The STOP Act, would take cases of rape and sexual assault out of the hands of the normal chain of command and place them in the jurisdiction of an impartial office within the military, but staffed by civilian and military experts. Rape and sexual assault in the military need to be treated as felonies, not as occupational hazards. A fair military justice system will be able to address wrongdoing and deter future predators.
How many more Lacklands will it take for the military to finally take action? For next year's recruitment class, I hope it's zero.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is a member of the House Armed Services Committee