In Focus: Sexual Misconduct in the Military

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Throughout the second half of 2017, the #MeToo movement roiled Hollywood, major media outlets and Capitol Hill with accusations of sexual misconduct. Now, three nonprofit advocacy groups are planning a rally for military women outside the Pentagon next month. The rally is scheduled for 8 a.m. on January 8 at the Pentagon Metro Station in Arlington, Va.

A Brief History of Military Sexual Misconduct

Although sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military has been addressed with policy and law changes, the problem is still pervasive in all four branches of the military. The Pentagon has grappled with the issue since the Tailhook Scandal in 1991 in which 83 women and seven men are assaulted by about 100 Navy men during a reunion of retired and active duty Navy aviators in Las Vegas.
More recently, a 2014 study by the Rand Corporation found that about 26 percent of active-duty women were sexually harassed and nearly 5 percent had been sexually assaulted in that year alone. While only a minority of those cases were reported, about 60 percent of the complainants said they were retaliated against for reporting the misconduct. In addition, according to Defense Department reports released earlier this year, half of female cadets had been harassed and 12 percent said they were sexually assaulted at the the Army and Navy service academies.

The #MeToo Demonstration at the Pentagon

The stated purpose of the rally is to allow military women and their supporters to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the military.

“We are demonstrating outside the Pentagon to ensure the voices of servicewomen and men are not left behind in the #MeToo movement and that the reckoning that has swept other industries in the nation also takes place in the military,” said Lydia Watts, chief of the Service Women’s Action Network.

Don Christensen, a former Air Force prosecutor and current president of Protect Our Defenders, a co-sponsor of the demonstration, said that military leadership failed to tackle the problem and that senior officers who perpetrate sexual harassment and assault should face penalties.

The Takeaway

The extent to which the #MeToo Pentagon rally will resolve the problem of sexual misconduct in the military remains to be seen. Nonetheless, certain forms of sexual misconduct are grounds for disciplinary action, including discharge and imprisonment under Article 120 of the United States Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). If you have been accused of sexual assault or harassment while serving in the military, you are well advised to seek the advice of an experienced court martial law attorney.

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