McCaskill and Levin Are Missing the Point on Military Sexual Assault

US News reports on the rift between Senator Gillibrand, champion of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), and Senators McCaskill and Levin, who oppose the Act. The MJIA moves prosecutorial discretion for all crimes with a punishment of more than one year’s confinement from military unit commanders to professional military prosecutors. It’s intended as a structural remedy for the widespread problems of command intimidation, victim-blaming, and lax punishment for sexual assault in the military. Senator Levin explains his opposition by simply parroting the complaints of military commanders:

“Commanders are telling us we will weaken our authority if you take this out of the chain of command,” Levin says.

Yes, of course it weakens their authority. That’s the point, because many are using that authority to tell rape victims to keep their mouths shut and to protect rapists from justice.

One gets the impression that adherence to the “Support the Troops” framework has left us utterly rudderless in dealing with the complexity of this issue. On one hand, popular culture demands that commanders be given every iota of trust to maintain unit cohesion as they see fit. On the other hand, rape victims are troops too.

Rape and sexual assault are not simple matters of command discipline. They are highly specialized violent crimes that often destroy the lives of victims, especially in cases that are not handled with the utmost expertise. We cannot expect generalists primarily focused on maintaining the combat readiness of military units to reliably obtain justice for and protect the health of rape victims.

Military rapists are not mere troublemakers to be reduced in rank and kept an eye on, they are violent criminals that belong eyeball-deep in the formal justice system. It does grave injury to justice and human rights to leave military commanders with the authority to decide otherwise.

Support the troops–in balance with the right to impartial justice.

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