President Barack Obama presented an ultimatum to the U.S. military today, warning that within a year it must take measures to better prevent and respond to sexual assault in its ranks. If not, the president will push for tough reforms.
“So long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system,” President Obama was quoted as saying, according to a December 20 NPR report.
The President’s statement came hours after the Senate passed a bill that would crack down on the sexual assault crimes in the military, part of the $632.8 billion U.S. Defense spending bill the Senate passed Thursday and sent to the president’s desk. The bill included about 30 provisions related to sexual assault in the military. However, an amendment to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command was not included in the final bill.
“The chain of command provides violent offenders an opportunity to manipulate the system and avoid accountability for sexual assault,” said Cheryl Thomas, The Advocates’ director of its Women’s Human Rights Program and an expert who works around the world to reform laws, processes, and practices to eradicate violence against women. “Truly, there’s no transparency with this system, and the military essentially colludes with sexual predators. Offenders are empowered by the system, and impunity for their crimes prevails. It’s similar to a batterer’s use of unfettered power and control to intimidate and silence victims that our legal system has struggled with for decades in domestic violence cases.”
Violence against women in the military replicates many of the dynamics of the abuse taking place in the civilian world, according to Thomas. “Advocates have worked for decades to put an end to violence against women,” she said. “The military would do well to learn from these struggles.”
The Advocates for Human Rights recently added a comprehensive section to its website, StopViolenceAgainstWomen.org, about sexual violence in the military. The section can be found here. The website is a stand out, receiving 20,000-30,000 visits each month from people around the world. Also, the just-published issue of The Human Rights Observer, The Advocates’ newsletter, features the article, “Sexual Violence in the Military: Brutal Betrayal.” Read this and other articles by clicking here.
Susan L. Banovetz is The Advocates’ director of communication.