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July 26, 2013

Inhofe Sets Record Straight on Misconceptions of Military Sexual Assault Cases

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today circulated a letter to the republican members of the Senate detailing six public misconceptions regarding sexual assault cases in the military and called for his colleagues to consider the importance of the commanders' role and authority.
In the letter, Inhofe listed the following six misconceptions:
"1. 'There were 26,000 sexual assaults in the Department of Defense last year.'  This is inaccurate.  The Department of Defense’s survey used the term 'unwanted sexual contacts' to comprise a broad range of improper behavior, ranging from 'sexual harassment' to the most violent 'sexual assault.'  This is a serious problem because we need clear definitions and reliable data as a basis for informed legislative action.
2. ‘The Allies changed their military justice systems in order to combat sexual assault.’  This is inaccurate: Canada and the UK changed their military justice systems to address concerns for the rights of defendants in courts-martial cases.  Contrary to assertions, our allies in Israel, Germany, and Australia have made no changes to their military justice systems due to sexual assault or for the specific purpose of benefitting victims of crime.
3. ‘The Allies saw an increased number of sexual assault convictions from changing their military justice systems.’  This statement is inaccurate: None of our Allies saw increased military sexual assault convictions as a result of changes to their military justice systems. Some have cited Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) in an attempt to prove this inaccurate statement.  What the IDF did experience was a statistical anomaly in 2011.  The IDF had 28 sexual assault indictments in 2008, 26 in 2009, and 20 in 2010.  In 2011 they had 14.  In 2012, there were 27.  The IDF experience in a very small number of cases is not statistically significant and does not compare to the magnitude and world-wide deployability required of U.S. forces.
4. ‘Victims do not report sexual assaults because they fear retaliation.’  This is an inaccurate statement.  The FY 2012 DOD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military and the Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members found that 70% of women who experienced unwanted sexual contact did not report simply because they did not want anyone to know.  Some may believe that taking disposition authority away from commanders will mean, for victims, that “no one will ever know” that they reported a sexual assault.  Unfortunately, that is not the case under the present system and it will not change if disposition authority is taken from commanders. Once a criminal investigation has begun and witnesses are interviewed people will know.  That may be why victims are reluctant to report sexual assault in even the most supportive environment.  It takes courage.  That is why the services all have sexual assault victim advocates to help victims through the difficult process to bring a case to justice.  Commanders have an essential role in ensuring those victims get the help they need.    
5. ‘Removing Commanders from the process will increase reporting and convictions.’  This is inaccurate: Commanders are consistently willing to prosecute sexual assault offenders, even when military and civilian prosecutors are not. A recent letter from Admiral Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported our commanders have taken 93 cases that civilian prosecutors declined.  To date, 73 have resulted in courts-martial with other cases still in process.  There were convictions in 52 cases. These commanders deserve our thanks for taking on these challenging cases!
6.  ‘Sexual assault victims should not be forced to report sexual assaults to their commander, especially if that commander was the perpetrator.’ I actually agree with this statement, but it is very misleading. Throughout our numerous hearings this year on the issue of sexual assault in the military, we heard consistently that no victim has to report a sexual assault to the chain of command.  In fact every service testified that they have a wide number of alternative means to report sexual assault including calling 911, notifying civilian or military police, reporting to the military criminal investigative organizations, notifying chaplains, JAGs and medical personnel.  They can report in person, on-line, or by text message.  In short, there are many ways to make a report and through training and education it is expected that reluctance to report can be reduced so that sexual assault victims can be provided the help they need and deserve."
Inhofe also highlights in the letter language from the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that established an independent panel to examine sexual assault in the military and report to congress any recommendations for legislation or modifications to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He encouraged Senators to consider the recommendations of the independent panel before supporting proposals that take responsibility away from commanders or remove sexual assault cases from the chain-of-command.
The full text of the letter is below and can be read by clicking here.


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