The Cycle
updated 5/10/2013 7:19:14 PM ET 2013-05-10T23:19:14

New statistics about sexual assault in the military shocked many this week. Rep. Loretta Sanchez is working on a bill to change military culture.

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he wanted to “review every aspect” of the chain of command in dealing with cases of military sexual assault. This came after startling reports showed a significant uptick in sexual assault cases in the military in 2012, reaching 26,000 cases up from 19,000 in 2010.

As the system stands now, the military adjudicates its own cases in incidents of sexual assault. Hagel wants to keep it that way, saying that taking the responsibility away from the military would “weaken” the system.

But many are concerned that this approach is hurting the victims of assault, making it harder for them to report cases and more difficult to prosecute those responsible for the offense. “What people are concerned about is that keeping this in the family, keeping this in the military, means that there is so much isolation and insulation from outside accountability,” The Cycle’s S.E. Cupp said on Friday. “And these prosecutions are not having the desired result in staunching these sexual assaults.” In fact, 62% of the women who experienced and reported sexual assault to Department of Defense authorities felt some form of social, administrative, or professional retaliation.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to improve protection for military members who report their sexual assault cases, thinks the problem is cultural–not judicial. She agrees with Hagel in thinking that taking the adjudicating power out of the military will send the message that it’s not the Commanding Officer’s problem if rape and assault is happening within his or her unit. S.E. Cupp worries, however, that these officers aren’t making it their problem as the system stands now. It’s not a question of legal training–as Sanchez points out, lawyers in the military are educated at the same law schools are civilian court attorneys–but a question of how the cases are being brought before a court

While some call for moving these cases to civilian court, Sanchez insists that the problem lies within the military. She told The Cycle hosts: “I believe that there are people who have stars on their shoulders who are rapists in our nation’s military. And we have to weed that them out and change the culture of what’s going on in there.” Sanchez has previously said the increase in sexual assaults in the military “reflects a terrible problem of culture and climate in our ranks.”

This is not Congresswoman Sanchez’s first effort to fight the trend of military sexual assaults. Previously she worked to implement a sexual assault database in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, part of her attempt to “weed out” those sexual offenders who are destroying their culture and community.

Video: New legislation aimed at protecting military sexual assault victims

  1. Closed captioning of: New legislation aimed at protecting military sexual assault victims

    >>> there may well be some new confidence starting to develop that we will take it seriously. those charges. they won't, the victims won't be penalized. we will do something about it and we will get control of this. i think working with the congress which we want to do, we will do, we are doing, is a responsible way to do this.

    >> defense chief chuck hagel vowing to work with congress to combat sexual assaults in the military and protect victims who come forward. but this week's pentagon survey on sexual assault in the military shows a disturbing trend. 26,000 military sexual assaults last year alone. that's a huge increase from the 19,000 we had in 2010 . even more disturbing, only a fraction of women report the assaults to a military authority. just 33%. it is not hard to see why when you dig a little deeper. mopping those who did report, 62 were retaliated against. nearly a third were socially shunned and a quarter said it was a combination of professional, social, and administrative retaliation. democratic congresswoman loretta sanchez hopes to change that. she co-chairs the women in the military caucus and is the top women on the armed services committee . she is co-sponsoring legislation for better whistle blower protection. she is in the guest spot. this is an important issue and we're very glad you're taking it up. i have real concerns about allowing sexual assaults to be adjudicated within the military. chuck hagel was talking about this earlier this week. let me play what he said and get you to weigh in on it.

    >> we have to go back and review every aspect of that chain of command . of that accountability. and some things do need to be changed. i don't think taking it away, the responsibility ultimate responsibility away, from the military. i think that would just weaken the system.

    >> do you agree with chuck hagel , congresswoman, that this should still all be handled internally within the military?

    >> well, actually in a lot of ways i believe that the secretary is right. i mean, it does sit on the commander's shoulder to have the cohesive discipline of his unit, division, whatever it is that he or she is commanding. and so when you say, oh, it is a sexual assault issue. take it over to the pentagon or give it to a jag. what you're really doing is maybe, and there is my fear, maybe telling that lieutenant colonel or that colonel or what have you, that captain, that this is not his or her problem. that someone else will take care of it. when that happens, i think we'll see a lot worse cases than the ones that we have right now. so i'm really not for puck that out although i believe that secretary hagel did a great thing when he said, we're not, we're going to take it away in some places in the chain of command on final say. so i think a hybrid might be good in this particular case.

    >> and congresswoman, your new bill talks about basically having an investigative arm that would deal with these type of retaliation that s.e. was rt roing. what do you say though to critics who feel that that isn't where the focus should be. that there is finally some overdue momentum to move it to the civilian courts. and some say this bill seems like perhaps a watered down alternative.

    >> well, i would say that there are several things that need to happen. that's my particular belief. and i think retaliation, and we've seen it over and over and over again, has got to stop. and that's one of the reasons why i'm a sponsor of that and really pushing for it and i think we will see it in the national defense authorization act . again, i don't believe that prosecutors on the outside are any better or any worse than the people in the military of handling this. and i'll tell you why. what we have begun to do in the military, sort of what you've seen on some of those law and order type of things where having special units, we're having special units. we're training up our prosecutors better. we're having better evidence chain so that we actually get the thing that we need in order to do prosecution. the reality is if you think about our jags, they come from the same law schools that others do. they come from the civilian world. and they are put in the military. they get training. they'll get more training under the new rules that we have in place. one of the things that happens on the outside, d.a.s get to choose the cases they bring forth. that's why they tend to have higher prosecution rates sometimes. in the military, you probably have commanders who even if the evidence is not there, feel the need to prosecute. so i think there is a lot of mixed messages.

    >> but congresswoman, i don't think anyone is concerned that these d.a.s, these prosecutors don't have the requisite training. i think what people are concerned about is that keeping this in the family. keeping this in the military mean that there is so much isolation and insulation from outside accountability. and these prosecutions are not having the desired result in staunching these sumts.

    >> the first thing we have to do is figure out where and how are people getting sexually assaulted . i continue to ask for information. how is it? is it after hours? maybe we go back to what we used to have in the 1950s and '60s. you had to have a pass to leave the base because we had more control over our people that we had in the military. because we want, it is a volunteer force and because we want people to join the military, you know, we've done away with that system. i would venture to say, i would like to see, where are these really taking place? how are they? what percentage? what are we really doing there to inhibit the thing from happening? and of course, we must prosecute people who sexually assault in the military. and you know, i'm outraged as so many of the women in the congress and across the nation are when some of these guys are letting these other guys off. i've been fighting this for 17 years.

    >> to s.e.'s point, i think to the larger point, part of why the military maintain jurisdiction is that thing that happen during the fog of war cannot be fully understood by civilians and it would make no sense to have civilians ajude indicating whether or not something happened in the fog of war is a crime or not. but when we're talking about a sexual assault , we're not talking about a military action . even if they happen to be on the base, they're not doing something militarily so that would suggest to me and i think perhaps to s.e. as well, that would fall under the traditional civilian criminal court rather than being able to hide in the military court .

    >> well, actually the ucmj is made so that you can have a trial. you can have a decision anywhere you place it in the world. that's one of the beauties of it. think about what happens. let's say we change it and now you have, you call back to the pentagon. hi, i've been sexually assaulted . then we've got to send people to the pentagon in iraq or afghanistan. by the time this comes to trial, all of these people who were involved in whatever process, witnesses, if there were, they're all over the nation. we move our troops around. i don't think that you would get a quicker trial. i don't think that you would get a better trial. that's just my personal opinion on it. because understanding the uniform code of military justice . i don't believe it is the ucmj that is the problem. i truly believe it is the culture of what's going. on i believe that there are people who have stars on their shoulders who are rapists in our nation's military. and we have to weed that out. we have to weed them out and change the culture of what's going on in there. and then we will do a better job at this.

    >> we really appreciate your focus on this issue and the fact that you have brought forward legislation, bipartisan legislation. i think the role that played in the house and the senate, bringing this issue to the forefront has been critical. what would you say though, one of the concerns. what i'm hearing from you is that you believe the fundamental problem is that there is a fear of retribution. that women fear to come forward because as you know, there is a much lower rate of reporting sexual assault in the military. even than in the civilian world and it is not that great there either. you have a higher incidence of sexual assault to start with. so you're posing that the real issue is women fear retribution. others are positing that they're afraid to go to their commander which is who they have to go to right now. that person may know the individual who assaulted them. may even be the individual who assaulted them. and may have an inkrepive not to bring charges because it reflects poorly on their abilities as a commander. how do you address those particular concerns?

    >> well, first i will tell you that regardless of how we change the ucmj , if you're talking about the situation where a commander finds out something is going on and there is pressure put on a woman, let's say, not to do anything. i'm going to make the guy who did this clean the toilet with a toothbrush for the next 30 days . it will be bad for you. it won't be good for the unit. don't go ahead and do that. however we change this thing. it is still not going to change those types of things going on. if we hold the commander really responsible for these things. if on his sheet for promotion he has on there, how do you handle sexual assault , have people said that you have not done, have we had a blind survey about what's going on there. when they see it just like they see, i have to do 100 push-ups in one minute in order to get to the next rank or whatever. with we care enough about it. when it is on the sheet for promotion, they will care more about what's going on with respect to this.

    >> congresswoman loretta sanchez , thank you for joining us.


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