‘Collateral Damage’

Rachel Natelson, former Legal Director of the Servicewomen’s Action Network, argues in Roll Call that the fear of punishment for “collateral misconduct” prevents many servicemembers from reporting sexual assault:

As an advocate, I’ve witnessed repeatedly the unique vulnerability of military victims to self-incrimination: the woman who was prosecuted for unauthorized possession of a prescription drug after reporting an assault and ultimately jailed alongside her perpetrator; the soldier charged with fraternization, or improper relations between an officer and enlisted member, while her assailant went free; the member warned that if she filed a report, she would be charged with dereliction of duty for walking 10 feet away from her guard post to smoke a cigarette.

Natelson implies (credibly, in my view) that such collateral punishment is often purposely meant to deter reporting:

It is this dual identity as victim and defendant that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., overlooks in asserting that because our allies changed their military justice systems to protect defendants, such reforms couldn’t work to the advantage of victims. Like those accused of committing sex crimes, victims charged with collateral misconduct are best served by a system that prioritizes legal merit over personal and professional allegiance. After all, for every example of clemency toward “good soldiers,” there are just as many instances of unjust penalization of service members perceived to undermine morale or disrupt group cohesion.

I found it rather amazing that Senators Levin and McCaskill, et. al. so readily adopted the military chiefs’ argument in the wake of the recent hearing on military sexual assault.

It’s one thing to trot nine sixteen military officers in front of the Armed Services Committee and listen to them repeat the same six buzzwords that were obviously coordinated beforehand, but it’s quite another to take those statements at face value. Why even bother going to college if that’s how you’re going to handle the evaluation of sources?

One wonders about the role of political maneuvering behind the scenes. On the other hand, it’s not hard to imagine that the military chiefs’ position dominates all other perspectives to which the senators are exposed. The chiefs are riding over two hundred years of perceived military credibility while victim advocate organizations like SWAN and Protect Our Defenders struggle for recognition. Some degree of asymmetry is to be expected. Still, it’s disappointing to witness the facility with which intelligent senators accept the chiefs’ tortured logic.

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