U.S. Military Cracks Down on Sex Crimes

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What is being done about sexual misconduct in the U.S. military?

The U.S. military is ramping up its efforts to handle sexual misconduct, assault and other sex crimes. In particular, high-ranking officers have been the focus of enhanced scrutiny. In this regard, in 2015 the armed forces has court-martialed or filed assault charges against officers of all four branches of the military.

This development is a shift from the armed services’ customary deference afforded to senior leaders. In the past, these cases were handled “behind the scenes,” often resulting in private reprimands or officers being stripped of command with little explanation. Now, the Defense Department is being pressured by Congressional lawmakers and the White House to crack down on sex crimes — surely conduct that is unbecoming of an officer.

It has been reported that 116 officers, including eight senior officers, were court-martialed, discharged or otherwise punished last year. A senior officer is one who holds a rank of colonel, Navy captain or higher. While enlisted personnel still account for most of the cases, high-ranking leaders have been found to have committed serious offenses. In one particularly egregious case in March 2016, an Army colonel with the Defense Intelligence Agency was sentenced to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl.

Though the number of officers involved in such court-martials is only a handful of the total, it is significantly higher than in the past. Part of the problem holding officers accountable rests with the military justice system, in which senior officers decide whether charges should be brought against individuals under their command. Some lawmakers and victim advocacy groups have argued that uniformed prosecutors should have this power, but military brass contends this would undermine command authority. At the same time, Pentagon officials say the wave of cases against senior leaders is an indication that officers will be held accountable much like enlisted personnel.

“We’ve made it abundantly clear that this is not tolerable,” said Nathan Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Similarly, the Defense Department has expanded awareness training, enhanced support for assault victims, and has also sent a legislative proposal to Capitol Hill aimed at reforming the military code of justice. As the military continues to take sexual assault allegations more seriously, officers and enlisted personnel are still entitled to a presumption of innocence and the right to be defended by an experienced court-martial attorney.

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