A few days ago, news broke of a group of officers in the Australian army calling themselves The Jedi Council who allegedly filmed themselves having sex with female colleagues and other women they picked up in nightclubs, then – unbeknownst to the women involved – emailed the explicit images and text using Defence computers to other mates across the country. Some of the emails also refer to the possible use of illicit drugs.
The reaction of the Australian Army was swift: a major, a sergeant and a warrant officer were suspended from the army and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is considering filing possible charges against the three men. A further fourteen officers, including at least one lieutenant colonel, are at risk of suspension, while investigations have identified as many as 100 military personnel across every military service and other senior ranks connected to the email exchanges.
But Lt. Gen. David Morrison went one step further: he posted a video condemning the actions of any member of the Australian armed forces who were involved. “The imagery, as is the text, is explicit, derogatory, demeaning and is repugnant to me,” he said in the video posted on the Department of Defence website, and on YouTube has nearly half a million hits so far and rising.
“Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.”
And that, gentle readers, is what a real Army commander looks like.
Now let’s compare that to how our military handles sexual assault cases committed by and against members of the United States Armed Forces.
Navy Judge Commander Marcus Fulton has ruled that two defendants in military sexual assault cannot be punitively discharged, even if found guilty, because of “unlawful command influence” from the Commander-in-Chief, namely President Barack Obama.
That’s right – because the President likewise expressed his disgust at the demeaning and repugnant behaviour by members of the American Armed Forces committed against their female colleagues, Fulton has ruled, pretrial, that if either defendant is found guilty of sexual crimes including assault and rape, whether by a jury or a military judge, they cannot receive the customary bad conduct or dishonourable discharge.
Worse still, his ruling sets a precedence for defence attorneys to use the same arguments in sexual assault cases throughout the military. Now – if you rape a female colleague, if you sexually harass lower ranking female military personnel, if you sexually assault anyone while serving in the uniform of the United States military – instead of being kicked out in disgrace at the very least, not only aren’t you punished with a dishonourable discharge, you get to retain your veteran’s benefits.
And it’s not like this is just a small handful of bad apples, either. Last year, Marine Corps defendants in more than 60 sexual assault cases filed “unlawful command influence” claims after Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos openly declared that 80 percent of sexual assault claims were legitimate. The Defense Department has noted 3,374 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” occurred during fiscal year 2012, a 6 percent increase over 2011, with a secondary survey reporting that if the 6.1 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact are extrapolated to include the entire military, about 26,000 service personnel may have been victimized in 2012. For every reported assault, nine go unreported – about 500 cases a week.
An Air Force colonel who led a program to prevent sexual assault was arrested for sexual battery after groping a woman’s breasts and buttocks. At Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, 62 trainees were assaulted or were victims of other inappropriate conduct by 32 instructors over four years. An Air Force general threw out a sexual assault conviction of a star fighter pilot because he couldn’t believe a “doting father and husband” could possibly have committed such a crime. Another general overruled a jury verdict and granted clemency to a captain at Vandenberg Air Force Base who had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault... without bothering to come up with any half-baked excuse at all. A brigadier general once in command of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, has had his court-martial for sexual assault against a captain under his command postponed and at least one pornography accusation dropped.
There is a deep problem in our military, and those who should be instrumental in stamping it out are instead finding ways for perpetrators to get off without even a slap on the wrist.
Despite the increasing public and congressional enquiries into the military’s handling of sexual assaults, the Senate Armed Service Committee voted down a proposal that would have transferred authority over military sexual assault cases to independent prosecutors. Instead, committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., included a clause in a mark-up of next year’s defence bill that would require high-level review of decisions made by commanders not to prosecute sexual assault cases. The rise in sexual assault in the military has risen to epidemic levels, but instead of a cure, the Senate Armed Service Committee opted for what has been called the “equivalent of an aspirin.”
So I guess the lesson here is, Australia values the service of their women in uniform, and expects exemplary behaviour from every member of their armed forces. The United States military...? Not so much.