Rape in the military has officially reached Orwellian proportions.
Last weekend, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the man in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, was arrested and charged with sexual battery for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a suburban Virginia parking lot.
Krusinski’s arrest led an incredulous Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to tweet: “There are no words. Air Force Officer in charge of sexual assault prevention arrested for? You guessed it.”
McCaskill’s biting missive was not delivered in a vacuum.
The Defense Department estimates that 23 to 28 percent of women serving in the military will be sexually assaulted at least once over the course of their service. Appallingingly, 11 percent will be raped.
Despite widespread media attention on the issue throughout the past year, thanks to the brilliant Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War, neither the military nor its civilian overseers in Washington have done enough to stop it.
Documents released by the Department of Defense this week reveal that military sexual assault is actually on the rise. Reported incidents of sexual assault rose 6 percent in 2012, up to 3,374 incidents in 2012. An anonymous survey of military members, however, revealed there may have been as many as 26,000 assaults last year—up from 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.
Multiple reports, from otherwise reputable publications, refer to the arrest of Krusinski as a “sex scandal.” Rape is not a sex scandal. Rape is a rape scandal.
In response to the horrific numbers, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh blamed “hook-up” culture for the rising assault numbers.
That kind of victim blaming has left military rape survivor advocates livid.
“A culture change needs to be done from the top down,” Military Rape Crisis Center founder and executive director Panayiota Bertzikis tells TakePart. “The military has known about this problem since 1991. They’ve had decades to fix the problem, and they have not. It’s only getting much worse. The military doesn’t have a handle on this.”
Nor does the media. Multiple reports, from otherwise reputable publications, refer to the arrest of Krusinski, the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention chief, as a “sex scandal.”
Rape is not a sex scandal. Rape is a rape scandal.
The solution to military sexual assault, argues Bertzikis, will need to come from Washington.
One proposed measure, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act), was introduced to Congress last month. The law would take felony sexual assault cases out of the military tribunal system, and into a newly created autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, which would have both civilian and military oversight.
“Our best hope right now is the STOP Act,” Bertzikis says, “which would take reporting out of chain of command. That way we won’t have commanders investigating their buddies.”
A previous incarnation of the bill died in committee in 2011. Bertzikis says she’s cautiously optimistic that the current scandals will finally drive Congress to action.
“I feel we have a lot of Congress-people on our side,” she says. “On the flip side, we have plenty who do not want to help survivors—who say they will vote no on legislation that would help survivors.
“I am a survivor myself. I know that military sexual trauma survivors have a higher risk of homelessness than even combat trauma survivors. I know that the military has wrongfully discharged survivors of sexual trauma.
“More people are not coming forward on this issue to get help because they don’t trust the system. Recent events have only confirmed how badly we need the STOP Act.”
Do you think the military can address soldier-on-soldier sexual assault without civilian intervention? Or no? Defend your position in COMMENTS.
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Matthew Fleischer is a former LA Weekly staff writer and an award-winning social justice reporter in Los Angeles. Email Matt