William Wilberforce once said, “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you didn’t know.”1 (Note to self: Don’t forget to footnote this.)
Wilberforce was speaking of the unspeakable injustice of slavery, but I think his words could apply to any injustice.
I cannot look the other way after hearing the story of a young naval recruit from Georgetown, KY. She was raised in a military family and upon graduating from high school she chose to proudly serve in the U.S. Navy.
While at training camp in 2008, she was attacked and raped by another recruit. The assailant beat her to a pulp, pinching three nerves in her spine and bruising her hips and legs to the point of immobility. She not only suffered from physical pain, but from emotional trauma as well. For years, she harbored suicidal thoughts and continued to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
According to the Department of Defense, over 26,000 acts of unwanted sexual contact occurred in our military last year. Of the 26,000, only 3,374–the equivalent of one in seven–of these incidents were reported to the authorities. In contrast, over half of all rapes are reported in civilian world.
This naval recruit reported her assault, however, the photos of her injuries, evidence from the crime scene, and the rape kit were all “lost” and the case was dismissed before the investigation even began. Her assailant walks free today and still serves in the U.S. Navy on a base just three hours away from her home in Kentucky.
To be a victim of sexual assault and to have your attacker walk free or be reprimanded with a mere slap on the wrist is a tragedy and an injustice that must be corrected.
This week, I joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (D-N.Y.) in a press conference to support her crusade to end sexual violence in the military.
In an arena filled with so many attacks and politics of personal destruction, it is sometimes refreshing for representatives from the left and right to join forces for something good.
Some issues are not conservative or liberal–they are important issues of justice.
At the press conference, a young woman and former Marine told her story. I was horrified and saddened to hear how she was assaulted by two Marines who broke her door down to attack her.
A court martial for the officer in question was convened, and the officer was found guilty of adultery and indecent language. Really? When did violent sexual assault become merely adultery or foul language?
I am very proud of our young men and women who serve in the military. The vast majority serve honorably. But a few bad apples can spoil the bunch, and because no one is properly punished, sexual assault is becoming an epidemic within our military.
In civilian life, many sexual assaults go unreported. It is understandably difficult to report an attack, particularly from a peer or co-worker. In the military, the pressure to say nothing is even more intense. Based on the information from SARPO, 87 percent of assaults in the military last year were not reported, and this could be due to intense internal pressures or threats to keep quite.
The Military Justice Improvement Act combats sexual assault in the military by restructuring the way in which sexual assaults are reported. These decisions should be handled by trained legal experts that will objectively represent, defend and bring justice for the young women and men who so proudly serve our nation.
It is widely claimed that Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Sexual assault will continue to plague our military until justice is served.
I don’t question the military’s motives in trying to fix this injustice, but after two decades of trying to patch up the current system, I think it’s time to let victims find justice outside the chain of command.
 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2013). Who was William Wilberforce, Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/dialogue/the-slave-route/resistances-and-abolitions/william-wilberforce/