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07.02.10

Fratricide by Other Means

Sexual assault and rape are still a vastly underreported problem in the military. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice, CA) on what is being done to help victims.

Despite genuine attempts within the Pentagon to end sexual assault and rape in the military, there are still rapists in the ranks.

On June 16, police arrested an Army recruiter in Orlando, Fl. for allegedly having a 20-year-old female recruit strip naked from the waist up so he could measure her body fat, and then coercing her into performing oral sex in the back room of his office.

Incredibly, many victims are forced to remain in the same units as their attackers.

By the time the female recruit reported the incident to the police, the accused had already been suspended by the Army for another offense: In April he was arrested for allegedly fondling a 14-year-old girl in the same recruiting station.

His despicable abuse of trust and power gives the Army a very public opportunity to make clear that such conduct, if proven, will be decisively punished. And the Army must use incidents like this to ratchet up efforts to stop sexual predators in their ranks before they can attack.

This shameful event should light a fire under Congress to strengthen the military's hand in dealing with sexual assault, and protect victims who are brave enough to report the attacks from professional backlash and intimidation.

The House-passed FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Act contains language to do just that. Drawn from a bill I co-authored with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), it would, among other things, expedite victims' requests for base transfers. Incredibly, many victims are forced to remain in the same units as their attackers where they are often shunned by fellow soldiers, treated as pariahs, or retaliated against by their chain of command.

One female National Guard soldier from Fresno told me that after she reported an assault, her commander led her into an office where her attacker waited. The commander told them to shake hands and "work it out"—then he shut the door and left. She, wisely, left too.

There are all too many of these disturbing stories: The Pentagon estimates that 80 to 90 percent of cases of sexual assault in the military go unreported.

Representative Jane Harman (D-California) chairs the intelligence subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee.