Military commanders fight to keep authority over sexual assault cases

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militaryWASHINGTON, DC – In an unprecedented hearing, the Senate Armed Forces Committee put the chiefs of every U.S. military branch in the hot seat.

Now they’re playing tug-a-war with a chain — the chain of command for sexual assault investigations.

It’s currently up to commanders to deal the investigations, but a bill is on the table to take the responsibility away and give it to military prosecutors.

The chiefs aren’t having it.

“It will undermine the readiness of the force. It will inhibit our commander’s ability to shape the climate and discipline of our units. And most importantly it will hamper the timely delivery of justice to the very people we wish to help,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

But the military isn’t helping. Sexual assault cases have gone up 35% since 2010.

An even bigger problem is how many incidents go unreported and why.

“They have told us that the reason they do not report these crimes is because they fear retaliation. Of the victims who actually did report 62% said they actually did receive some retaliation,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey suggested making commanders more accountable, “Working together we can and will restore trust within the force and with the American people.”

Unfortunately, reports of sexual assault in the military go back several decades. It’s going to take a lot of teamwork to restore that trust.