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Why It's So Hard to Trust the Chain of Command in Military Sexual-Assault Cases Why It's So Hard to Trust the Chain of Command in Military Sexual... Why It's So Hard to Trust the Chain of Command in Military Sexual-Assa... Why It's So Hard to Trust...

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Congress

Why It's So Hard to Trust the Chain of Command in Military Sexual-Assault Cases

A day after a high-profile arrest, a new Pentagon report shows sexual assaults have jumped by a third since 2010.

President Obama waves to U.S. troops at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan on March 28, 2010.(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

photo of Ben Terris
May 7, 2013

It’s been a bad 24 hours for the military.

News broke late Monday night that Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the man in charge of the Air Force’s chief sexual-assault-prevention effort, was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a woman. And a new Pentagon report out Tuesday shows the number of sexual assaults in 2012 grew by more than a third compared with 2010. According to the survey, there were about 26,000 active military victims of sexual assaults last year.

That the military has had a difficult history of sexual misconduct is not particularly new. As Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., put it in an interview with National Journal: “This has been out of control for a long time; it’s just now coming to light in an explosive way.”

 

“The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this,” President Obama said at a press conference Tuesday. “‘I expect consequences.”

The one-two punch of the arrest and the report has people on Capitol Hill talking about more than just the obvious hypocrisy. For Blumenthal and others, when Krusinski was arrested and charged for allegedly groping a stranger in a parking lot, it was further proof that the system is flawed.

“It all speaks to the fact that the system is failing,” Blumenthal, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said. “It is the ultimate mockery of justice for the protector to be committing the crime. And the larger issue is right there. This incident simply is the most prominent tip of the iceberg. For every incident that is so highly publicized there are thousands of others who suffer who in the shadows.”

Krusinski’s breach of trust is almost perfectly symbolic. Military officials have expressed concerns that some troops do not report crimes to their superiors. According to the Defense Department’s own information, about 85 percent of victims do not report the crime. With more than 50 percent of such crimes occurring at the hands of higher-ranked officials, it’s likely many victims just don’t feel they have the proper channels to do so.

Protect Our Defenders, a victim’s advocacy group with a focus on the military, is hoping that this 24-hour news cycle could be something of a tipping point for action.

“What we have here is a fish rotting from the head,” said Brian Purchia, a spokesman for the group. “And it’s not just Krusinski. There’s a long list of generals who have been dismissed. It's time for Congress to go in and fix the way the military deals with this.”

What Purchia is advocating for is an independent office, one removed from the chain of command that would be responsible for the reporting, investigation, and adjudication of military sexual assault.

For Purchia, the Krusinski case may be a good way to draw attention to the problem, but it isn't necessarily the most illustrative example of how the chain of command can be an impediment to justice. For that, he points to a case from early this year.

In February, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin ordered a fighter pilot to be released from prison despite having been convicted by a military jury of sexual assault. Because Franklin was the convening officer, he had the right to do so without an explanation.

“The appearances of this are devastating to victims of sexual assault throughout the military,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, said at the time. “It looks like somebody taking care of one of their guys.”

Since then, a bipartisan group of members of Congress have dropped a bill to create an independent office, and a group of senators including Blumenthal and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., are working on legislation that would at least take away the authority from a commanding officer to reverse a court decision.

“I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way,” the president said at the news conference Tuesday. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable—prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Correction: The original version of the story misidentified the ranking of Lt. Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski.

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