For Military Sexual-Assault Survivors, Proposed Reforms Are Only a Start

Gillibrand: A "safe" no vote.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Aug. 11, 2013, 8 a.m.

Bri­an Lewis was a de­term­ined 20-year-old petty of­ficer, en­vi­sion­ing a long ca­reer of ser­vice after three years in the Navy. But that was be­fore he was raped.

In Au­gust 2000, after be­ing as­signed as a fire-con­trol tech­ni­cian aboard the USS Frank Cable, a sub­mar­ine tender out of Guam, a su­per­i­or offered to provide ca­reer guid­ance over din­ner. Later that night, in a re­mote area near some com­mer­cial fish­ing docks, the su­per­i­or at­tacked the young petty of­ficer, ir­re­voc­ably chan­ging his life.

“After that, my chain of com­mand ordered me not to re­port it to Nav­al Crim­in­al In­vest­ig­at­ive Ser­vice,” Lewis told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily. “That’s what hap­pens in our mil­it­ary justice sys­tem. I can­not in good con­science tell a ser­vice mem­ber that re­port­ing to their chain of com­mand is in their best in­terest.”

As of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton grapple with re­forms to the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem, among those watch­ing with sharp in­terest may be thou­sands of vic­tims. An an es­tim­ated 26,000 cases of un­wanted sexu­al con­tact oc­curred in the armed ser­vices in fisc­al 2012, ac­cord­ing to the De­fense De­part­ment. Al­though most of the mil­it­ary health ser­vices offered to deal with it cater to wo­men, more than half of the vic­tims are ac­tu­ally men.

The mil­it­ary says it is mak­ing changes, and law­makers on Cap­it­ol Hill have com­mit­ted to put­ting some re­forms in place this year. But many vic­tims and their ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions in­sist that what’s be­ing dis­cussed is nowhere near ad­equate to elim­in­ate the con­flicts of in­terest in the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem or to curb a cul­ture that of­ten blames vic­tims when in­cid­ents oc­cur.

“A lot of em­phas­is is now be­ing placed on pro­tect­ing vic­tims from re­tali­ation after they come for­ward,” Lewis said. “All of the pro­pos­als fail to ad­dress what hap­pens to the vic­tim be­fore that.”

Sur­viv­ors of sexu­al as­sault ar­gue it is prac­tic­ally im­possible to seek med­ic­al or leg­al as­sist­ance in private, that the only way to get help and try to seek justice is to go through su­per­i­ors.

But com­mand­ers have broad lee­way over how to handle such situ­ations.

In the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem, the chain of com­mand de­cides what to do with al­leg­a­tions of sexu­al mis­con­duct, in­clud­ing wheth­er to pro­sec­ute cases or throw them out without fur­ther in­vest­ig­a­tion. What hap­pens in the chain also re­flects on the com­mand­er, so crit­ics ar­gue it can be in com­mand­ers’ in­terest not to ac­know­ledge prob­lems in their ranks.

On the Hill, dozens of law­makers, led by Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., in the Sen­ate, and Rep. Dan Ben­ishek, R-Mich., in the House, are fight­ing a tough battle to change that. They are push­ing le­gis­la­tion — op­posed by both the Pentagon and Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee lead­ers — that would take the de­cision to pro­sec­ute out of the chain of com­mand but leave it with­in the mil­it­ary. However, even the staunchest ad­voc­ates of this bill say that this is not enough.

Paula Cough­lin, who brought the prob­lem of sexu­al as­sault in the mil­it­ary in­to the pub­lic eye after her as­sault at the Tail­hook con­ven­tion of avi­at­ors in 1991, said she does not know that any bill pro­posed in Con­gress could have pre­ven­ted her at­tack. But she ar­gues that re­forms like Gil­librand’s would have en­sured at least a great­er at­tempt at justice, and this might change be­ha­vi­or.

“I don’t know if one of those bills would have pre­ven­ted my at­tack,” she said. “But I feel cer­tain that the way I was mis­treated by the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem, and most im­port­antly by my chain of com­mand, that it would have been dif­fer­ent if there had been a law that said you have to handle every sexu­al-as­sault com­plaint im­me­di­ately and hand it over to a third-party in­vest­ig­at­ing unit.”

Lewis said that his com­mand­ers’ lack of in­terest in his case — there was nev­er an in­vest­ig­a­tion or pro­sec­u­tion — be­came un­bear­able. Mean­while, he found out that his at­tack­er had raped at least one oth­er per­son be­fore him, and he felt vul­ner­able in the ship’s close quar­ters. “There are only so many places to hide on a 600-foot-long gray floaty thingy,” Lewis said.

Lewis was me­de­vaced to a Navy med­ic­al fa­cil­ity in San Diego. Rather than the Navy treat­ing his at­tack like a crime, in­vest­ig­at­ing it, pro­sec­ut­ing it, and provid­ing him with ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment and sup­port, Lewis says he was dia­gnosed with a per­son­al­ity dis­order and dis­charged. It left him with what he con­siders a shame­ful and un­fair black mark on his re­cord that haunts him pro­fes­sion­ally. The Navy de­clined to dis­cuss Lewis’s situ­ation cit­ing pri­vacy reas­ons.

Lewis has re­fo­cused his ca­reer to try to bring about justice for mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault sur­viv­ors. He is in the pro­cess of set­ting up the first non­profit ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion for male vic­tims, called Men Re­cov­er­ing From Mil­it­ary Sexu­al Trauma, and he hopes to even­tu­ally be­come a law­yer to ad­voc­ate for those un­fairly dis­charged. He also serves on the ad­vocacy board for Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers, an non­profit ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tion for mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault vic­tims.

This spring, Lewis be­came the first male sur­viv­or of sexu­al as­sault to testi­fy be­fore Con­gress, and he says a full palette of re­forms are needed.

Be­sides the Gil­librand-Ben­ishek bill, he sup­ports a pro­vi­sion in both the House and Sen­ate de­fense bills that would provide a spe­cially trained coun­sel to provide leg­al ad­vice to vic­tims.

Lewis is also strongly ad­voc­at­ing for a bill by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., that would re­view the cases of more than 31,000 vet­er­ans who were dia­gnosed with a per­son­al­ity dis­order and dis­charged. An­oth­er bill he fa­vors from Rep. Jack­ie Spei­er, D-Cal­if., would take the sys­tem for re­port­ing mil­it­ary sexu­al as­saults out of the chain of com­mand en­tirely.

He is also call­ing for the mil­it­ary to provide ser­vices for male vic­tims of sexu­al as­sault. “The mil­it­ary will have to de­vel­op pro­grams to ac­com­mod­ate male sur­viv­ors. One of the reas­ons male sur­viv­ors do not come for­ward is the lack of ser­vices,” he said.

Yet, while Lewis ar­gues that the re­forms he sup­ports would have helped his situ­ation, he ac­know­ledges they might not have pre­ven­ted the at­tack. He ar­gues that the mil­it­ary has to go much fur­ther to change be­ha­vi­or.

“Really it’s a cul­ture change that is needed where we stop blam­ing the vic­tim,” Lewis said.

One com­mon cri­ti­cism is that the mil­it­ary hangs posters on bases warn­ing against drink­ing too much or walk­ing home alone, when vic­tims ar­gue that the as­saults are of­ten about con­trol and ab­use of power, rather than neg­li­gence on the vic­tim’s part.

Cough­lin, who is also on the ad­vocacy board of Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers, said she has heard the Pentagon say for dec­ades that it is go­ing to take the prob­lem ser­i­ously. But as­saults have stead­ily in­creased.

“I have been wait­ing 20 years, and they really haven’t made any con­crete change,” she said. “You can’t train a rap­ist to not be a rap­ist, and you can’t train a group of mil­it­ary people to be­have bet­ter than what they were modeled. But you can change the way those com­plaints are handled in the hopes that it re­sets the stand­ard for be­ha­vi­or.”

As Lewis put it, “Our uni­forms did not cause us to be raped; our looks didn’t cause us to be raped. The rap­ist caused us to be raped.”

What We're Following See More »
IN ADDITION TO DNC AND DCCC
Clinton Campaign Also Hacked
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
AFFECTS NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."

Source:
NORTH DAKOTA TO ILLINOIS
Massive Oil Pipeline Approved for the Midwest
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."

Source:
DISAPPOINTING RESULTS
GDP Grew at 1.2% in Q2
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."

Source:
×