Chuck Hagel to Take Serious Action On Military Sexual Assault


With military women twice as likely to experience sexual assault than civilian women, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's forthcoming announcement of executive actions will be relief to many who have thought it's been been taking too long for the military to take action on sexual assault. Female military personnel have enough to worry about without also having to worry about the possibility of their being almost 180 times more likely to become a victim of sexual assault than perishing in the past 11 years in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Between October 1, 2010 and September 31, 2011, roughly 19,000 (that's 52 a day) sexual assaults occurred within the military. The vast majority of victims were female personnel that were under the age of 25, with the majority of the perpetrators being older men (at least 35) who tended to be higher-ranking than the female. Of course, as depicted in the graph, there were also male victims of assault. 

One of the new measures in Hagel's executive actions is the acceleration of all unrestricted reports to the "first flag or general officer in the chain of command." This will ensure that an additional level of supervision is given to every case so that it is handled properly. Vice Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral James Winnefeld mentioned that he wanted to combat what he believes are misconceptions with how the Department of Defense is handling the issue of sexual assault within the military. He believes that these views are obstructing "the very real steps we're taking and the progress that we seem to be making on the issue." While the public awaits Defense Secretary Hagel's half dozen executive actions, we can assume that there will be at least some takedown of power.

Back in April, Defense Secretary Hagel recommended that commanders in the military be largely stripped of their powers to reverse criminal convictions of service members. This came after a severe uproar from Congress when an Air Force officer decided to overturn a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case. In a written statement, Hagel wrote that the changes "would help ensure that our military justice system works fairly, ensures due process and is accountable." While the change would require congressional action, the new recommendations have the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service secretaries. 

With the public having a better knowledge of how prevalent sexual assault in the military is, and with the support of senators and lawmakers as well as the Department of Defense, it is likely that we will soon see some substantial regulatory change to how sexual assault is handled in the military. While it may be idealistic to say that sexual assault in the military will cease to exist (wouldn't that be great, though?), with Hagel's leadership, and the DOD backing him, we will begin to see military victims of sexual assault given more protection under the law that they fight to uphold.