The Military Still Isn't Handling Sexual Assault Right

November 15, 2013 Topic: State of the Military Region: United States Blog Brand: The Buzz

The Military Still Isn't Handling Sexual Assault Right

Civilian oversight remains the only real solution.

Stooped with my hands on my knees, I took a few deep breaths, headphones still piping music into my ears. I’d sprinted the last few blocks of my evening run and managed to log a few miles more than last week. Only a couple blocks from home at 18th and R, I took a moment to admire the light, feeling proud of what I’d accomplished. Out of nowhere two hands came from behind me and grabbed my behind, clawing down at the band of my shorts. My elbows jerked back and hit whomever it was in the ribs so hard it sent a shooting pain down my hands. A young Hispanic guy about my height let go and sprinted ahead of me, turning to smile over his shoulder. The shock was suffocating. Without thinking, I tore after him. My knees, soft and gummy after running for an hour already. I couldn’t keep up. I chased him for four blocks, before it become clear he would win. I stopped short, wheezing hard and every part of me burning.

That was four years ago. Was it wrong? Of course. Am I alone? Hardly. A twenty-three-year-old woman testified Tuesday that Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force’s then chief of sexual-assault prevention, molested her outside an Arlington restaurant in May, then taunted her about it:

‘I feel someone come up behind me—their chest is to my back, and they firmly grab my rear end as they’re walking by, and they ask me if I like it,’ said the woman, who broke down in tears during her testimony in Arlington County Circuit Court.

On Wednesday, Krusinski was acquitted of the assault and battery charges. His lawyers successfully argued that the fact that the victim apparently gave “inconsistent testimony” regarding how many times she hit Lt Col Krusinski in retaliation for his unwanted groping introduced some reasonable doubt into the case. A server from the bar near the alleged assault testified that she too was groped by Krusinski that night, along with one of her coworkers.

Krusinski has been assigned to another position in the wake of these events. Yet Lt Col Krusinski is far more than a larger symbol of the forces’ now well-chronicled rape epidemic. He is also represents a much more narrow and insidious problem of the new “leaders” the military has appointed to deal with sexual-assault cases allegedly perpetrating the very acts they are appointed to prevent. See additional instances of this pernicious pattern here and here.

According to the Washington Post, a recent Pentagon summary found that “reports of sexual assault in the military increased 46 percent to 3,553 reports this fiscal year, a spike Defense Department officials portrayed as a sign that victims now feel more comfortable coming forward.” More people coming forward isn’t bad, but truly, what good is it if there is still no successful command structure in place to address such crimes? Would you report your sexual assault to a chief who you know assaults? It’s a legitimate question.

It’s welcome news that the U.S. Senate is now pushing to overhaul how DoD handles the reporting of sexual-assault cases. But even so the institution of an “independent team of military prosecutors” that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is proposing may be insufficient for the scope of this problem. It’s statistically clear that despite the military’s repeated claims of “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, many abusers are rewarded for their actions while victims are washed out of the military with “personality disorders” and other invented ailments. It’s also clear that many members of the military who are specially appointed to deal with combating these crimes cannot adequately be trusted to do so. Putting seven of these appointees on a team does not seem to solve that problem. James Kitfield has extensively documented “a command climate that tends to cast suspicion and blame on victims.” The groupthink command climate will likely only be reinforced rather than checked in this type of group.

If one were in want of an objective group to rule on instances of theft, he wouldn’t pick from a pool with a blatant stealing problem. The military’s appointment of sexual-assault officers who violate the very nature of the positions they hold indicates a malignant cancer at the highest level. A civilian oversight committee entirely unrelated to the military is necessary to ensure a more neutral and objective environment for reporting such assaults.