Published Monday, December 2, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:08 pm
Midlands Voices: Reforms critical to address sexual assault in military

The writer, of Omaha, is executive director of the Women's Center for Advancement.

The number of sexual assaults reported in the military has reached the highest level ever, according to a recently released Pentagon report. The 3,553 assaults reported between October 2012 and June 2013 represent an increase of 46 percent over the previous year. According to military officials, this increase shows that victims feel more confident in coming forward.

Maybe so.

But another figure suggests we are very far from solving a problem that borders on an epidemic. According to a confidential survey of military personnel released this year by the Pentagon, 26,000 soldiers reported they were the victim of some level of sexual assault during the previous year.

The difference between the number of assaults reported and the number of assaults likely occurring may reveal a culture that has silently accepted sexual assault as simply a part of life — a culture in which Americans who are ready to put their lives on the line for their country find a more immediate risk within their own ranks.

To their credit, military leaders have acknowledged that military sexual assault has to be confronted and addressed. The issue has received bipartisan attention in Washington, and we may soon see the most sweeping legislation in history directed at sexual assault in the military. However, Congress left for Thanksgiving recess without action.

At the Women's Center for Advancement (formerly the YWCA), we see firsthand the devastating impact of sexual assault in the military. Our Women Veterans Support Program assists veterans in our community who have experienced sexual assault. Sometimes, we see women who have been victimized twice: first by the perpetrator, and secondly by a chain of command that may have responded with inaction, indifference or retaliation.

Two senators have offered proposed amendments to the defense authorization bill that would address sexual assault in the military. A bill drafted by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would allow commanders to keep their jurisdiction over sexual assault cases but an outside civilian panel could review cases that the commanders don't prosecute.

The Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would remove sexual assault reporting and prosecution from the chain of command and transfer it to a military prosecutor who is independent of the command.

While we commend both senators for their commitment to addressing this issue, the WCA strongly supports Sen. Gillibrand's proposal. Our experience with veterans who were sexually assaulted shows that it is essential that reporting and prosecuting sexual assault in the military be removed from the chain of command under which the assault occurred in the first place.

The support of seven more senators is needed to ensure that this critical reform passes. Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns supports the Gillibrand amendment, saying, “Our military men and women put their lives on the line to keep us safe, yet that same promise can't be made to our soldiers when it comes to sexual assaults. This legislation helps ensure that these appalling crimes are fully prosecuted, in a timely manner, by military courts.”

Sens. Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin of Iowa also support the Gillibrand amendment. Sen. Deb Fischer is the lone senator from Nebraska or Iowa not to endorse the bill.

WCA clients who have suffered from sexual assault in the military have lasting issues — sometimes a lifelong struggle to overcome the trauma of the event and the additional trauma of dealing with the assault in silence.

We can be silent no more. We need to encourage an environment in which sexual assault victims — male and female — feel safe to come forward, an environment in which an independent military process investigates and prosecutes those crimes.

We urge the Senate to take action. And we urge Sen. Fischer to be among the seven voices needed to make sure the Gillibrand amendment passes so that we can effectively begin to unravel a culture that has allowed sexual assault to become part of its fabric.

Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »