Senator Mazie K. Hirono listened to victims' stories and questioned military leaders today during an Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing on sexual assault in the military. Hearing witnesses included military leaders, victim advocates and former military victims of sexual assault. The Department of Defense estimates as many as 19,000 military sexual assaults occurred in 2011. Due to a broken system of enforcement, victims of assault are often unable to bring their perpetrators to justice and instead face humiliation and blame.
"These terrible incidents of rape and violence in the military are very troubling, and the testimony I heard today raised important questions about how these cases are handled in the military," Senator Hirono remarked after the hearing. "I am very proud of the service of our men and women in uniform, and I am eager to explore solutions that get justice for victims and prevent these acts from occurring in the first place. One of the hardest things to do is to change the culture of an institution like the military, but we must find ways to address this very serious problem."
Senator Hirono listened to the testimony of military victims of sexual assault, including former Army sergeant Rebekah Havrilla.
"The military criminal justice system is broken. Unfortunately, my case is not much different from the many other cases that have been reported. I feared retaliation before and after I reported, the investigative process severely re-traumatized me, many of the institutional systems set up to help failed me miserably, my perpetrator went unpunished despite admitting to a crime against the UCMJ, and commanders were never held accountable for making the choice to do nothing. What we need is a military with a fair and impartial criminal justice system, one that is run by professional and legal experts, not unit commanders. We also need an additional system that allows military victims to access civil courts if the military system fails them," said Sergeant Havrilla at the hearing.
After listening to victims' testimony, Senator Hirono questioned military leaders on the procedures in place to address sexual assaults in the military. She urged the Pentagon's Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor to eliminate the ability of those in power to suppress victims' rights by unilaterally overriding military jury verdicts. Upon Senator Hirono's questioning, Mr. Taylor assured the subcommittee that the Department of Defense would "take a very hard look" at this troubling issue.