…And the Scandals Keep Coming
Two new scandals involving a Sergeant and a Lieutenant Colonel responsible for sexual assault prevention programs have come to light recently, adding to the three scandals I reported on last week. The two new reports from Fort Hood and Fort Campbell demonstrate again that sexual assault in the military is structural and demands fundamental changes. My next post, detailing the six pieces of legislation that have been introduced to combat this problem will be posted next week. This week, I’m looking at the new developments and examining the response they’ve gotten from the White House and the Pentagon.
Obama’s Press Conference; Response from Pentagon
Even before the two most recent scandals were revealed, President Obama was asked about the issue during his press conference with Korea’s President Park on May 7th. A reporter asked for his response on the culture in the military that perpetuates these problems and what can be done to fix them.
“[The President] warned that he wanted swift and sure action, not ‘just more speeches or awareness programs or training.’ Sexual offenders need to be ‘prosecuted, stripped of their position, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.’”
Good news, as long as he can get Congress and the Pentagon to follow through. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, while claiming that the leadership of the Department of Defense has “no higher priority than the safety and welfare of the men and women in uniform,” seems set on keeping the structure of the military as it is.
“It is my strong belief, and I think others’ on Capitol Hill and within our institution …that the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure.”
He also said he believes that amending the chain-of-command structure for sexual assault reporting and prosecution would “weaken the system.” If he’s referring to the military’s system of rape culture, I agree with him. Hagel’s first attempt at taking charge of the situation seemed to be just for show. His outline of “eight initiatives” that the Pentagon would follow in effort to prevent sexual assault would essentially change nothing.
“[Hagel’s plans to reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice would] bar a convening authority from overruling court martial findings except in extreme cases in which they would have to document their reasoning in writing.”
So, commanding officers are still able to choose which cases are “extreme” enough to overturn and their documented reasoning can still be based on untrained, bias personal opinions and prejudices. Someone who is not a judge (or even a lawyer) can still single-handedly reverse a legal decision. Talk about change you can get PTSD from.
Fort Hood Scandal: Sgt. Gregory McQueen
One week later, on Tuesday, May 14th, Army Sergeant Gregory McQueen was put under investigation by the US Army Criminal Investigation Command. McQueen, who was an equal opportunity advisor and head of the sexual assault response program at Foot Hood in Texas, is being investigated for “abusive sexual contact” and attempting to run a prostitution ring of low-ranking female service members.
“The Sergeant was allegedly running a young female soldier as a prostitute, essentially serving as her pimp…the Department of Defense official told CBS News. But the Sergeant allegedly tried to recruit two other women as prostitutes and they refused. He allegedly assaulted one of them and that woman blew the whistle, the official said.”
Needing to make it look like he was taking meaningful steps on the issue, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced plans to make it harder for sexual offenders to be assigned to sexual assault prevention positions.
“Hagel said he was directing all services to re-train, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.”
Notably, this would only apply to a relatively small number of people. It also calls attention to the fact that the military’s training and screening process up to this point has been a huge failure. How flimsy can the requirements have been before? Why were they deemed acceptable?
Others are also questioning how seriously Secretary Hagel is taking this issue. There’s a lot of doubt that his proposal is going to make much of a difference. Congresswoman Jackie Speier shared her apprehension with ABC News.
“In the end, the training is not going to do the trick.”
“We aren’t convicting, we aren’t prosecuting, and we aren’t kicking people out.”
Greg Jacob, a Marine Corps veteran and current Policy Director for the Service Women Action Network shared his doubts with US News.
“The training [Hagel is] talking about is specifically sexual assault training, which doesn’t give them the legal experience and the legal knowledge for them to make a legal decision.”
“Any GI could receive preventative medicine training…but that doesn’t make him or her a doctor.”
Fort Campbell Scandal: Lt. Col. Darin Haas
On Wednesday, a new scandal broke from Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Lieutenant Colonel Darin Haas, head of the base’s sexual assault response program, turned himself in and was arrested by local police for stalking his ex-wife, allegedly breaking the order of protection she had against him. He was held for the required 12 hours then released by the Clarksville Police. They are currently investigating him to determine “whether or not he violated the actual provisions of the order of protection that apply to him.”
The police affidavit on Haas was obtained by WSMV- TV, revealing that he “threatened to kill his wife through text messages.”
“According to the affidavit…[Haas’ ex-wife] Alissa Owens told police on Wednesday that Haas had been sending threatening text messages since November, 2011, shortly before their divorce was finalized. Owen took out an order of protection against Haas in October, 2012.”
It has been widely and falsely reported that Haas also had an order of protection on his ex-wife. Her attorney corrected on Friday that there is only one order of protection; the one filed by Ms. Owen on Mr. Haas.
A spokesperson for Fort Campbell released a statement announcing the position they are taking during the investigation.
“Haas is due to retire from the Army soon and his replacement will assume duties right away.”
Fort Campbell’s Public Affairs Office also stated that they “will await the results of the civilian court proceedings before taking action.” Knowing that Haas is close to retirement, I have doubts that the military will take action against him, regardless of the outcome of the civilian court. That just seems to be their policy.
Male Survivors of Military Sexual Assault
In the Pentagon’s recently released survey, it was estimated that 26,000 cases of sexual assault and rape occurred in the military in 2012. Of these, more than half were estimated to have been committed against men; 14,000 attacks on men, 12,000 on women. This means there was an estimated 38 men and 33 women assaulted in the military every day. The survey also said that male survivors report at “much lower rates” than women. On the 16th, Navy veteran and military rape survivor Brian Lewis was interviewed by NBC News. He had spoken alongside Senator Gillibrand that day as she announced her new legislation (which I’ll get more into next week). Lewis offered insight on the culture that silences male survivors even more effectively than it does female ones.
“As a culture, we’ve somewhat moved past the idea that a female wanted this trauma to occur, but we haven’t moved past that for male survivors.”
“In a lot of areas of the military, men are still viewed as having wanted it or of being homosexual. That’s not correct at all. It’s a crime of power and control.”
“…there’s the notion…that you misconstrued their horseplay.”
A spokesperson for the Pentagon announced a plan to better support male survivors, but since it’s doubtful it will go far enough and does next to nothing to solve the actual problem, it looks like little more than a PR move.
“[The Pentagon] has reached out to organizations supporting male survivors for assistance and information to help inform our way ahead.”
Brian Lewis questioned how helpful this would be.
“I applaud the stand on behalf of male survivors. However, I would be interested in hearing what organizations they are partnering with considering there are none especially geared for male survivors of military sexual trauma.”
He makes a good point. Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders, a “leading advocacy group for male and female survivors of military sexual assault,” expressed her surprise that her organization was not among those allegedly contacted by the Pentagon.
“[Parrish] said she would welcome the chance to offer guidance to the Pentagon…”
“As of yet, we have not been asked to participate…”
“For success on this issue it is critical that survivors are part of the process.”
Similar to the highly acclaimed documentary The Invisible War, a new documentary “which explores sexual assaults against men in the military” will premiere next month at the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience. The new film, produced and co-directed by Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews, is called Justice Denied. Weinstein-Matthews describes the importance of male survivors telling their stories:
“It’s time for men to have their voices heard. It’s time for them to stand up against these vicious attacks and against the deception of some of their commanding officers.”
White House Meeting with Pentagon Officials
On Thursday, President Obama held a meeting at the White House with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, and other Department of Defense officials. Chris Hayes, host of All In on MSNBC, described the goal of the meeting this way:
“Today’s meeting…was designed to present outwardly the message, ‘We’re all committed to doing whatever’s necessary to end the epidemic of sexual abuse in the military.’ But the subtext of today’s White House meeting, and this is really important…is that the resistance to changes necessary to crack down on sexual predators in the armed forces, they’re not a partisan difference between Democrats and Republicans, rather an institutional fight between Congress and the Pentagon. And the president called today’s meeting, it appears, to try and play the role of mediator.”
After the meeting, the President made a statement to the press on why he believes this issue needs to be dealt with seriously and swiftly.
“The capacity for our men and women in uniform to work as a team- a disciplined unit looking out for each other in the most severe of circumstances- is premised…on trust.”
“The issue of sexual assault in our armed forces undermines that trust. So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it is also going to make, and has made, our military less effective than it can be. And as such it is dangerous to our national security.”
Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno seemed to grasp the importance of the situation.
“It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission.”
As long as his primary mission includes steps toward real, structural change, I am totally on board with the General. It’s nice to hear conviction like this from the Pentagon. However, General Martin Dempsey, while referring to the situation as a “crisis,” may not understand why this has become a crisis.
“…Dempsey suggested that a deepening of the sexual assault problem may be linked to the strains of war.”
“I asked those around me to help me understand what a decade-plus of conflict may have done to the force.”
“Instinctively, I knew it had to have some effect.”
“This is not to make excuses…”
Yes. More than a decade of continuous war has affected our troops. But hard work doesn’t make someone a rapist. Stress doesn’t make someone a rapist. And neither of those things makes someone a rape apologist. Plus, blaming this problem on a decade of war means there’s no one available to be held accountable. If it’s Time’s fault, what’re you gonna do? Well, I guess we already know the answer to that.
Pentagon Press Conference
The next day, a press conference was held by the Pentagon for DOD officials to share their impressions on the problem at hand. Secretary Hagel said he has been given a lot of advice, but it doesn’t seem he’s taken much of it to heart.
“Hagel said it has become clear to him since taking office in February that holding people accountable for their actions is important but simply firing people is not a solution. He said he got a lot of advice on that. He said some asked him, “Well, why don’t you just fire some people?’ He said his answer is, ‘Well, yeah, we could do that. And, you know, who are we going to fire?’”
You’re the Secretary of what used to be called the War Department and you’re just now realizing that holding people accountable is important?? Didn’t that used to be the entire point of the military? And since when is firing people not a way of getting rid of those who’ve broken the rules? And WHO DO YOU FIRE? Are you kidding me? You fire the rapists and the people who let them get away with it. You fire the people who knew about these crimes and covered them up. You fire the people who would diagnose survivors as mentally ill rather than prosecute their rapist. Are you worried that having to fire thousands of people will make you look bad? Well I’ve got news for you- you already look bad. Firing those people would only help you at this point.
You also said you believe that alcohol is “a very big factor” in many cases of sexual harassment and assault. Being drunk while committing any other crime doesn’t make what you did go away. Being drunk while having any other crime committed against you doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or shouldn’t be punished. As the military of the United States, you are supposed to stand for justice. If you believe that alcohol is the problem here, and not your gross incompetence, no one can help you at this point. Accept your obvious defeat and allow Congress to make the changes necessary.