December 26, 2013

Regarding the Dec. 20 news article “Congress poised to approve changes to address sexual assault, rape in military”:

While a symbolic step forward, the current round of military justice reforms are hardly “the most extensive rewrite of the Uniform Code of Military Justice since the armed forces were integrated,” as some would have it. In fact, without corresponding changes to the prosecutorial process, they either reiterate existing policies or bear unintended consequences for victims.

Each of the service branches, for example, already mandates that members convicted of sex crimes receive a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. Likewise, a Defense Department directive has long barred commanders from taking any “unfavorable personnel action” against those who report sexual harassment or assault.

Criminalizing retaliation will only raise the evidentiary burden for proving such misconduct, a shift likely to result in even fewer such cases yielding redress. And if commanders retain authority over criminal charges, why would they be any more inclined to prosecute retaliation than they have been to pursue underlying offenses?

If Congress is serious about eradicating the culture of sexual violence in the military, it must do more than simply repackage existing policies in the guise of reform.

Rachel Natelson, New York

The writer was legal director of the Service Women’s Action Network from 2011 to June 2013 and is a member of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women’s working group on military sexual assault.

Continue reading