June 12, 2013

When the prosecution rate for sexual assaults in the military is less than 1 percent, and the conviction rate is less than .1 percent, we have a problem. It becomes a bigger problem when our legislators set out to do something about it and their colleagues quash the effort.

In a striking showdown between Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and a member of his own party, Mr. Levin said on Tuesday that he would remove a measure aimed at curbing sexual assault in the military from a defense spending bill.

Senator Carl Levin supported military brass in deciding to drop a proposal by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, another Democrat.

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, offered a measure that would give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try, with the goal of increasing the number of people who report crimes without fear of retaliation. Mr. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand’s measure — which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans — with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin’s measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants.

I think we have a man problem in the Senate, too. This is the second time Senator Gillibrand has gotten the smackdown from her own party. It's not like she was asking for anything radical, and it had bipartisan support.

“They basically embrace the status quo here,” said Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, a co-sponsor of Ms. Gillibrand’s bill. “It’s outrageous.”

A recent Pentagon survey found that an estimated 26,000 assaults took place last year. Senior military officials have repeatedly traipsed to Capitol Hill this spring to lament the problem but have been ridiculed by members of both parties of the Armed Services Committee for failing to make a dent in the problem.

Of those 26,000 sexual assaults, just over 2,000 were actually reported. Why? To report them, one must go through the chain of command. Who wants to report a rape to an officer liaison who sexually harasses women? And who wants to report sexual harassment by a senior officer to another senior officer? Birds of a feather and all that.

Before Senator Levin manhandled Senator Gillibrand's effort to make reporting and prosecution of sexual assault easier, there was a hearing. Witnesses heard in that hearing included eighteen opponents to Gillibrand's measure, and only two proponents. John Aravosis:

In a brazen slap in the face to women in the military, the Senate Armed Services Committee – run by Democrats, mind you – invited 18 opponents of legislation addressing sexual assault to testify at a hearing today, while inviting only 2 witnesses who support the sexual assault legislation, and no sexual assault victims at all to testify.

It was the Senate’s own Sandra Fluke moment.

Yes, the Senate has a man problem and what Carl Levin just did was give anyone with a mind to rape, harass, manhandle or otherwise assault someone the right to keep right on doing what they're doing. It was a little wink and nod saying, yes, rapists and harassers will just be rapists and harassers. Carry on, generals.

If this makes you as mad as it makes me, you can sign sexual assault survivor Trina McDonald's petition at MoveOn.org and let these idiots know that being in the military isn't a license to rape.

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