The Injustice Behind Our Lines

By Narrelle Gilchrist

In the U.S. military, a woman is more likely to be raped by a co-worker than killed by the enemy. In 2013, according to a report by the Department of Defense, there were nearly 1,400 cases of sexual harassment and over 5,000 cases of sexual assault in the military, and thousands more were believed to have gone unreported. Because military commanders often put the reputation of their unit above carrying out justice, perpetrators of both sexual assaults and sexual harassment get off every day in military courts. To prevent the miscarriages of justice that occur regularly amidst the ranks of our armed forces, all cases of sexual harassment in the military should be reviewed by civilian courts, not decided unilaterally by the unjust military court system.

History has proven that army courts are not capable of properly administering justice within their ranks. In the New York Times of November 26th, 2014, Colonel Don Christensen, a martial prosecutor, described his experiences in military courtrooms. He witnessed commanders showing their solidarity with those accused of sexual assault or harassment, using their powers to tip the scales in favor of the accused by selecting the juries or ordering the withdrawal of cases, because the suspect was a “valuable” officer. In one case, Christensen witnessed a commander leap from his perch and yell, “Yeah!” after a pilot was found not guilty of rape.

Furthermore, after witnessing countless perpetrators of rape and sexual harassment escape punishment or vilification, many victims of sexual harassment in the military no longer report their assailants, afraid to speak out. According to a CNN article by Congressman Jackie Speier, only an estimated 13.5% of victims in the military report their attackers. While 40% of civilian sexual offenders are prosecuted, only 8% of sexual assailants in the military are sent to court. In 2002, army specialist Andrea Neutzling reported a sexual assault to her military commander, who gave her assailant a slap-on-the-wrist punishment of five days of base restriction. The next time Neutzling was assaulted, this time by a different soldier, she did not report it, knowing that it would do no good. A month later, she was raped by two soldiers, and again chose not to report it. Instead, she kept a rifle pointed at the door in her barracks as she lay in bed every night. When another woman in her unit told their commanding officers of the incident, they did not believe Neutzling, with the chaplain telling her, “You don’t act like a victim.” Her assailants were never charged. In the army, incidents like these occur every day, and nothing is being done to stop them.

In the military chain of command, commanders have full jurisdiction over cases such as Neutzling’s, arbitrarily deciding when, and whether, to investigate incidents of assault. In addition, if they choose to punish the perpetrator, commanders decide the severity of that punishment at their sole discretion, with sentences varying from an informal reprimand to a dishonorable discharge. In contrast, a prosecutor who is independent of the chain of command would be far more likely to select a punishment appropriate to the scope of the crime committed. Civilian courts would more effectively dole out justice without taking into consideration rank, authority, or reportedly invaluable service to the military. A 2013 ABC/Washington Post poll found that 59% of respondents supported giving a civilian prosecutor authority over sexual assault and harassment cases in the military. Doing this would ensure that those who should be prosecuted are, and that victims in the military are no longer afraid to speak up.

Our government has a responsibility to protect the Americans who are serving in our army. How can we expect soldiers to defend our country if our justice system does not provide them due protection in their own ranks? Making sexual harassment in the military a civilian-reviewed offense will help remedy the broken system that has allowed thousands of perpetrators of sexual assaults to walk away unpunished. To restore both our people’s security and our nation’s integrity, we must ensure that this happens no more.

Works Cited

Draper, Robert. “The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault.” The New York Times. November 26, 2014. The New York Times Company. January 14, 2015.

Simeone, Nick. “DOD Releases Figures on Sexual Harassment in the Military.” U.S. Department of Defense. May 15, 2014. American Forces Press Service. January 14, 2015.

Speier, Jackie. “Victims of Military Rape Need Justice.” CNN. February 8, 2012. Cable News Network. January 14, 2015.

The NOW Foundation. “Will Military Sexual Assault Survivors Find Justice?” National Organization for Women. March 19, 2014. National Organization for Women. January 14, 2015.

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Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics. 

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