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Sexual Assaults: Is the Military Finally Starting to Get It?

June 10, 2013

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

March 26, 2010: A poster supporting the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program. (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Released)

March 26, 2010: A poster supporting the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program. (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Wikimedia Commons)

On June 7, the U.S. Air Force command named Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward director of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. She replaces her predecessor, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who was charged with sexual assault in early May.

Announcement of his arrest came the day before the Department of Defense was to hold a press briefing to tout changes intended to improve the handling of sexual assaults. Also on June 7, the U.S. Army command suspended Major General Michael T. Harrison, the commanding general of the U.S. Army in Japan for failing to “to report or properly investigate an allegation of sexual assault.”

At the press briefing, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was “outraged and disgusted” at the allegations against Krusinki. Hagel also asserted that “[a]ll of our leaders at every level in this institution will be held accountable for preventing and responding to sexual assault in their ranks and under their commands.” But will commanders really be forthcoming? Will they be willing to report crimes that could make them look like they can’t manage troops effectively, thereby potentially endangering their own chances for promotion?

Congress has launched an investigation into how the military is handling sexual assaults. According to the Washington Post, the hearings were precedent setting in that it was the first time the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff had testified together as witnesses; the hearings were also marked by the significant presence of women on the Senate Armed Services Committee—seven in all.

Perhaps we are at the tipping point and having so many women on the committee holding the military accountable will make a difference. Perhaps the only solution is a bipartisan bill proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Armed Services Committee, which would remove prosecution of such crimes from the military chain of command. The Washington Post reports that all the military chiefs oppose that idea.

I wonder what nurses in the military think—surely many have had occasion to treat troops who have been injured in sexual assaults.

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