Posted by Kirby Dick, Director, THE INVISIBLE War · June 04, 2013 10:09 AM
· 1 reaction
I'm in DC today where the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding the first full committee hearing on sexual assaults in the military in a decade. As I wrote in my Op-Ed in The New York Times, "Don't Trust the Pentagon to End Rape," this hearing comes after months of public revelations of rapes and other violent attacks at U.S. military bases and academies in our country and around the world. Today, chiefs of staff of the military branches will likely admit that there is a serious problem and insist that the solution involves changing military culture.
But the challenge goes far deeper.
This is our moment to make change. We've come to a head and after a year of sustained collective action, we've created a perfect storm environment that is ripe for serious change to be made. In my film, "The Invisible War," retired brigadier general, Loree K. Sutton, describes the military as a “target-rich environment” for serial predators. The training and leadership efforts the Pentagon proposes won’t change this environment. It simply isn’t possible to “train” or “lead” serial predators not to rape.
In order to make lasting change, we need to take the adjudication of military sexual assault out of the chain of command. That is the sole way to alter both policy and cultural change within the military. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has introduced a bi-partisan bicameral piece of legislation, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), that would do just that. As I continue my efforts through film, through our social action campaign #NotInvisible, and through continued trips to Capitol Hill to attend important hearings such as the one taking place today, I hope you'll take a moment to call your Senators.Urge them to take action to end military rape by signing on to co-sponsor the MJIA.
I hope you take a minute to read my Op-Ed, "Don't Trust the Pentagon to End Rape," in the NYT, share it with a friend, and leave a comment. If everyone knows then it won't be a secret. You can read it by clicking here.
Thank you for your continued support and action. This has become a true grassroots movement spurring real, measurable change. We couldn't do it without you.
Posted by Trina, THE INVISIBLE War · June 03, 2013 4:25 PM
Tomorrow the US Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a full committee hearing on the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) and the other pending bills on military sexual assault.
Senator Gillibrand’s bill, the MJIA, is a chance to do what we know is right: move the decision to prosecute sexual assault outside of the military’s chain of command. Many of you have taken a stand for this kind of reform by signing my petition on MoveOn.org. If you have yet to do so, you can by clicking here.
I am traveling to Washington to deliver our petitions – more than 100,000! – to Senators on the Armed Services committee at tomorrow's hearing. I'm incredibly proud of how far we've come but I know in our fight for justice, the biggest milestones still lie ahead.
This morning, President Obama who has been publicly vocal about the epidemic of military sexual assault, addressed the issue in his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Saying that, "...Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong. That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth."
This weekend was transformative, to say the least. Certainly for me, but even for the hundreds of soldiers in the Ohio Army National Guard Battalion 1-174th, who tossed the sexual assault and prevention training manual out the window and instead chose to play THE INVISIBLE WAR during their mandatory annual training.
I had the best experience speaking with them afterwards - something I never thought would be a remote possibility. I wanted to share a note that I received from one of the Captains following the training. I can barely believe this is real.
Please read it and share it and know that each action you take to spread the word about this film, and the epidemic of military sexual assault is making a real difference. In Congress, at the Pentagon, for survivors, and even on military bases across the world - where we need it most. I had my doubts, but it really is true. Together, we are #NotInvisible.
26,000 men and women were raped last year while serving in the United States Armed Forces. That breaks down to 70 assaults every day. And now, two officers - including the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program - have been arrested for the very crimes they’re supposed to prevent.
Enough is enough.
It’s time for serious changes to be made to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, moving the decision to investigate and prosecute sexual assault out of the chain of command. This morning, Senators Gillibrand, Collins, Boxer, Johanns, Begich, Blumenthal, Coons, Franken, Hirono, Mikulski, Pryor and Shaheen, as well as Representatives Gabbard, Benishek, Hanna, and Sinema, introduced new bicameral legislation to do just that.
This bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act, would also end commanders’ ability to overturn sexual assault convictions and instead give that discretion to experienced trial counsel.
This weekend, the first two female combat veterans in Congress—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)—joined Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union to discuss the rising number of military sexual assaults. And both of them advocated moving the power to prosecute outside of the chain of command—along with dishonorable discharge for those convicted of sexual assault in the military.
“We have to make sure that it’s a victim-centered response, from the moment that the victim makes that report all the way through to the point where the perpetrator is prosecuted and charged and punished,”said Rep. Gabbard.
On Monday, MAY 13th, we will start broadcasting THE INVISIBLE WAR on public TV stations across the US - working to raise awareness and shed light on one of the most shameful secrets of our time: rape within the military.
Providing public access to our film couldn’t come at a more necessary time.
Last week, the Department of Defense released the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) annual report and it showed a significant spike – an increase of 34%. In 2012, over 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted. To add insult to injury, the report came out two days after an Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was himself arrested for sexual battery. Case in point.
WASHINGTON, DC - In a new petition on MoveOn.org’s online petition platform, Trina McDonald, a survivor of sexual assault during her time in the U.S. Navy, is urging the Senate to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to move the decision to prosecute sexual assault in the military out of the chain of command. Nearly 110,000 people have signed Trina’s petition since she launched her campaign a few weeks ago.
According to estimates from the Department of Defense (DOD), 19,000 service men and women are sexually assaulted while serving in the United States military every year. However, the Pentagon estimates that 86% of cases go unreported—often because survivors who report their assault are subject to personal and professional retaliation. The DOD’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office (SAPRO) has yet to release its annual report of sexual assaults for 2012.
The petition calls on the Senate to amend the UCMJ and move the decision to prosecute outside of the chain of command to avoid conflicts of interest and help ensure that rape in the military is seriously investigated and prosecuted. Trina, whose story was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War, was repeatedly drugged and raped by military police while serving at the remote Adnak Naval Operating Station in Alaska
“It’s time to take action and ensure survivors of sexual assault in the military are not invisible and receive the justice they deserve. Congress must amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and move the prosecution of military sexual assault out of the chain of command,” explained Trina McDonald. “Survivors should not suffer retribution for speaking up, and rape should never be an ‘occupational hazard.’ Only Congress can change the UCMJ to create a real, working system for prosecuting sexual predators in the military – and ultimately putting an end to sexual assault in the military.”
A series of high-profile military sexual misconduct and rape cases, including the conviction and dismissal of Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, and a widespread investigation at Lackland Air Force Base that resulted in the dismissal of several basic training instructors, have brought public and political attention to the issue. Both the House and Senate have held congressional hearings on the issue this term, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is set to introduce new legislation this month that would establish special military prosecutors for sexual assault cases.
This week, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA-9) appointed UC Hastings law professor Elizabeth Hillman to serve on the military’s Sexual Assault Review Panel.
Professor Hillman is the president of the National Institute for Military Justice, which is “a nonprofit dedicated to promoting fairness in and public understanding of military justice worldwide.” She’s a military sexual assault researcher and published author on the military justice system.
But here’s the best news about Hillman’s appointment: she supports taking the prosecution of violent crimes—including sexual assault—out of the chain of command.
Did you see this? Just today, The New York Times wrote an editorial detailing the path forward on ending military sexual assault and highlighting some promising proposals from one of our champions, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Next Steps on Military Sexual Assaults
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: April 28, 2013
In the last big health survey of active-duty American military personnel, conducted in 2011 and released last week, one in five female service members said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact since joining the military. That shocking statistic squares with other alarming indicators of the military’s pervasive culture of sexual misconduct. It also underscores the urgent need to change that culture.
Despite promises of zero tolerance, the Pentagon has nothing less than a sexual assault crisis on its hands. The Defense Department estimated last year that as many as 19,000 service members are sexually assaulted annually. Only a small fraction of the incidents, 3,192 in 2011, are reported, and a mere 10 percent of those cases proceed to trial — hardly enough to create meaningful deterrence to criminal behavior and establish accountability. And sexual assaults at the three elite military academies are at record numbers, according to Pentagon data. Studies have shown sexual trauma to be the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among servicewomen.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, is offering two promising bills aimed generally at improving conditions for women in the military and reforming the way the military handles sexual assault cases. The first measure, introduced last week, would allow women to use their own money to pay for abortions in military medical facilities. Under current law, military doctors may perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is endangered, an appalling restriction on a woman’s right to make her own childbearing decisions. The rule also has the effect of denying abortion care to military rape victims who are unwilling to risk their careers and privacy by coming forward.
The second bill, to be introduced next month, seeks to give women confidence that they can eventually receive justice by repairing a key structural flaw in the military’s handling of assault cases. As things stand, senior officers with no legal training but ample conflicts of interest can decide whether court-martial charges can be brought against subordinates and whether to throw out a verdict once it is rendered. In one recent case, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, an Air Force commander, dismissed without explanation the aggravated sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, permitting Colonel Wilkerson’s reinstatement.
Ms. Gillibrand would leave decisions in serious military cases, including sexual assaults, to an independent prosecutor and end the power of senior commanders to quash a verdict. A similar measure that would create a system for handling sexual trauma cases outside the chain of command has been introduced in the House by Jackie Speier, a California Democrat. To his credit, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports eliminating the discretion of senior officers to overturn jury findings in serious cases, still leaving defendants robust rights of appeal. But he has stopped short of endorsing the changes necessary to give impartial military prosecutors the power to investigate and prosecute offenses.
Opponents of reform seem in denial about the severity of the problem while raising overblown fears that handling felony-level cases outside the chain of command would ruin military discipline. What that argument misses is that military discipline is already badly broken when the many victims of sexual assaults have almost zero faith that justice will be served and their careers protected if they report them.