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The Dark Side of the Prestigious Marine Barracks
Posted on May 8, 2012
The DOD does not maintain a military sex offender registry that can alert service members, unit commanders, communities and civilian law enforcement to the presence and movement of sexual predators. Military sex offenders are not placed in the national sex offenders’ database created by the Department of Justice.
The Navy and Marine Corps give a substantial number of waivers to potential recruits who have criminal records, including felony convictions. A 2007 study found that in 2006 the Marines gave 20,750 recruits (54.3 percent of all those recruited that year) waivers for criminal convictions. In 2005, 20,426 recruits (53.5 percent) were given them.
In 2006, the Navy gave 3,502 recruits, or 9.7 percent of those recruited, waivers for criminal conduct. In 2005, it gave them to 3,467 recruits, or 9.2 percent.
According to a 2009 study, 13 percent of men enlisting in the Navy admitted that they had raped someone. Of those men, 71 percent admitted to serial rapes. The perpetrators said that they targeted people they knew rather than strangers and generally used drugs or alcohol rather than brute force to incapacitate their victims.
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Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and company commander and now executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, says that the Pentagon’s primary solution for ending rape is through its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which has no law enforcement authority to prosecute or punish. She says SAPRO’s messaging to military troops is questionable, including its infamous poster that says “Ask Her When She’s Sober.”
Bhagwati strongly believes that the military should have all sexual assault cases handled at the General Court Martial Convening Authority level, where a general officer—with more experience, maturity and impartiality than a junior commander in whose unit the alleged crime occurred—would decide whether they should be prosecuted.
Another option is offered in the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (the STOP Act), introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier on Nov. 16, 2011. H.R. 3435 would take the reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the military’s normal chain of command and place jurisdiction for them in the newly created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, composed of civilian and military experts.
Speier has been talking about the issue of rape in the military each week for four months on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Because of the reluctance of the military to prosecute sexual predators, Bhagwati also calls for reform to allow service members access to the federal courts for civil redress of these crimes. Currently, service members cannot bring a tort claim in federal court for rape, sexual assault and harassment cases and other crimes and acts of negligence by the military, including medical malpractice and workplace discrimination.
There is a pattern of the military using psychiatric diagnoses to get women who report sexual assaults out of the military.
According to a Freedom of Information Act request, from 2001 to 2010 the military discharged more than 31,000 service members, citing a personality disorder—“a long-standing, inflexible pattern of maladaptive behavior and coping, beginning in adolescence or early adulthood.” The military considers a personality disorder diagnosis as a non-service-related, pre-existing condition. Veterans Affairs will not provide treatment for a pre-existing condition, and the service members are left without treatment for their sexual assault trauma. Additionally, service members who are diagnosed with a personality disorder and are discharged lose GI Bill educational benefits and have to repay re-enlistment bonuses.
Military records obtained by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic through a separate Freedom of Information Act request show that the personality diagnosis is used disproportionately on women. In the Army, 16 percent of all soldiers are women, but they constitute 24 percent of all personality disorder discharges. Women make up 21 percent of the Air Force but account for 35 percent of personality discharges. In the Navy, women account for 17 percent of the total members but 26 percent of personality discharges, while the 7 percent of the Marine Corps who are female account for 14 percent of the personality discharges. The records do not state how many women were ordered discharged from the military with a personality disorder diagnosis.
On April 16, 2012, after pressure during meetings with congressional leaders, Secretary of Defense Panetta said he would ensure that officers of at least the rank of colonel with special court-martial authority would oversee sexual assault cases rather than junior officer commanders. Although reported sexual assaults continue to rise, junior commander-initiated actions to prosecute offenders were down 23 percent, courts-martial were down 8 percent and convictions decreased 22 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Panetta also will recommend to the military that special victims units be established to handle the offenses and that National Guard and Reserve members be allowed to remain on duty after they are sexually assaulted so they can obtain treatment and support, which they currently lose when they are removed from active duty.
To learn more about rape in the military, see the film “The Invisible War.” It won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She has written extensively on the issues of sexual assault and rape in the military. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”
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