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Egan: Sexual assault remains a problem in the military

BY ALEXANDRA EGAN | SEPTEMBER 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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The U.S. military is charged with the protection of the people of the United States of America. But for all the good the armed forces might do, they often fail to protect others, and even their own troops, from sexual assault and rape.

Sexual assault is a growing problem, perpetuated by rape culture, all over the world and on a smaller scale on college campuses such as ours. This problem has had a long history of injustice. Women and men who are victims of such assaults often too scared to come forward with their stories. Women have been told they were “asking for it,” and sometimes the accusations are blatantly ignored by authority figures. In an institution such as the military, made up of authority figures, this is an especially troubling occurrence.

On Aug. 27, U.S. Army Gen. Michael Harrison, the former commander of the U.S. Army in Japan, was demoted as a result of his failure to properly report a sexual-assault case dealing with one of the officers under his authority and a Japanese civilian employee in March 2013. The officer, an unidentified colonel, was allegedly responsible for the sexual assault of one of the people under his supervision. Harrison knew about the incident and, in an apparent attempt to keep a man he had known since the 1980s out of trouble, failed to report the crime to criminal investigators for months in direct violation of Army conduct codes. Instead, according to Stars & Stripes, he ordered an internal probe, which is a violation of Army regulations. The former two-star general retired as a one-star general, which will cost him hundreds of dollars a month in retirement pay, according to Stars & Stripes.

During his suspension, he kicked aside to the Pentagon and made director of program analysis and evaluation for a deputy chief of staff. It has been reported that despite an official letter of reprimand in December 2013 regarding the sexual-assault case as well as other incidents, he remained on active duty.

The lack of attention to this case, along with others and the disregard for meaningful, timely punishment directly feeds into the cultural idea that people in power (particularly men) need not follow the same moral codes or laws as the rest of us. It also demeans women all over the world who are victims of these crimes. These victims are citizens of our country, other countries, and members of our military. In fact, former Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., who introduced a bill in the summer of 2008 to encourage the investigation of military sex crimes, stated, “A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.” This disturbing statement reveals the reality of sex crimes, how often they occur, and how often they go unaddressed.

As citizens of the United States and people of the world, we should all feel protected by those who vow to keep us that way. But when one of these men directly violates the code of conduct to cover up the heinous and blatantly illegal acts of another, there is no longer any way to ensure that we are being protected from all threats. Sexual assault is something that we can work to stop, but we may never get there if we perpetuate the notion that even in the highest chains of command, it will not be taken seriously.


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