WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has unveiled a controversial new plan that he says will spur military leaders to confront the “scourge” of sexual assaults amongst armed service members.
Instead of caving to demands for an independent military legal authority, Hagel announced that commanders would take charge of sexual assault investigations by prioritizing cases in which female service members were alleged to have sexually assaulted their male counterparts.
“It’s all about piquing the interest of our high-level commanders, who find female-on-male cases more stimulating,” said Hagel. “The fact is that most commanders just don’t take sexual assault seriously, but they were enthusiastic about investigating cases of servicewomen taking charge, so to speak.”
Earlier this week, President Obama voiced his support for the new disciplinary guidelines in front of Marines at Camp Pendleton. In his remarks, the president said that “no military unit can succeed without discipline, without trust and without cohesion.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about our, uh, units succeeding,” said Hagel.
According to a defense department study, 3.3 percent of men had experienced “unwanted sexual contact … since joining the military, by someone in the military.”
Of the estimated 26,000 cases of assault last year, only 302 garnered prosecutions. The cases have incited lawmakers to demand changes to the military-justice system, with some suggesting that the military chain of command should no longer hold jurisdiction over sexual-assault allegations.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been vocal about the need for assault cases to be handled by professional military lawyers. “As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system,” said Gillibrand. “Servicewomen hesitate to report sexual assault because they fear reprisal from their superiors, while male victims fear that reporting sexual assault will make them look ‘like little sissy bitches.’”
Gillibrand said that she supports the Pentagon’s efforts to bring about more prosecutions, but she voiced concerns about the message sent by focusing on female offenders. “Our top military personnel should not be using egregious sexual violations as some sort of Penthouse forum.”
Gillibrand added, “Not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and rape.”
Hagel countered that under the new guidelines, “Commanders will be able to distinguish between a lot more than that. Really, you should see the amount of time they’re spending on these female-on-male cases. They’ve read certain things that make them wish they’d put on a hazmat suit.”