Justice

The Big Lie the Military Got Caught Telling About Sexual Assault

April 19th 2016

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

The Pentagon got caught systematically lying to Congress about sexual assault cases in the military.

Military officials reportedly lied about the conduct of civilian district attorneys to make themselves look better, according to an investigation by Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy organization for military sexual assault victims, and The Associated Press. Internal government records were changed to make it appear that civilian law enforcement and prosecutors weren't willing to pursue sexual assault cases.

Basically the military wanted to look like the lesser of two evils, and changed the documents to make it seem like the military can provide more justice for sexual assault victims than civilian alternatives. Protect Our Defenders got the records in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Military officials told Congress that there were 93 cases of military sexual assault where civilian prosecutors refused to follow through. However in many of those instances civilian prosecutors never actually refused to continue with cases. What actually happened, according to the reports, is that military officials requested that the cases be re-entered into the court martial system in a scheme to make civilian district attorneys seem less willing to prosecute.

The implication of the report seems to be that military was trying to set up civilian prosecutors to look like they were refusing ot prosecute cases, in order to make the court martial system appear more productive by comparison.

This story could have major political implications.

Now two Senators from opposing parties are calling for an independent investigation. Democrat Sen. Kristen Gillibrand from New York and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley from Iowa wrote a letter to President Obama.

"The allegations in the Protect Our Defenders report and the AP article include providing inaccurate information to a congressional committee, misleading the Congress, and undermining efforts to make critical reforms to a broken system," they wrote.

The military's shady documents were most likely a part of a strategy to kill a Senate bill by Gillibrand that is designed to protect sexual assault victims. The bill aims to take power away from military commanders. If it passes, commanders will no longer decide what sexual assault cases go to trial.

Gillibrand's bill, which has faced harsh criticism from Pentagon officials, is called the The Military Justice Improvement Act. Her Senate website describes a conflict in the current handling of sexual assault cases in the military.

"Repeated testimony from survivors and former commanders says the widespread reluctance on the part of survivors to come forward and report is due to the bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command’s current sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial."

Gillibrand previously credited the 2012 documentary called "The Invisible War" for shaping the bill. The documentary addresses the high numbers of sexual assault in the military and the struggle for justice.

Comments on Twitter suggest that rape and sexual assault in the military is still a very important topic.

Gillibrand's bill failed in 2014 and 2015 and detractors of the bill, like Tennessee's Sen. Claire McCaskill, agreed with military officials that the bill would interfere with cultural changes already happening in the military.

"Every aspect of the chain of command is responsible," McCaskill said in 2015, according to The Military Times. "It is their job to train troops, to maintain good order and discipline to prevent rapes and crimes being committed under their command, and to punish retaliation."

In a recent survey of military service men and women, about 62 percent of women said that they experienced retaliation for reporting sexual assault. The report further states that only 10 percent of male military personnel report sexual assault when it happens to them.

RELATED: This Powerful Video Shows The Real Cost Of Sexual Assault