Lawmaker faults U.S. military for the way it handles rape cases

March 8, 2012 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES -- U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier on Wednesday castigated the U.S. military for its policies in dealing with rape and sexual assault and repeated her call for legislation to fix a system she said was broken.

In a House floor speech, Ms. Speier, D-Calif., called for passage of her legislation that would move rape and assault investigations out of the normal chain of command and put them in the hands of an impartial office.

Her speech came the same week that eight current and former U.S. military members filed a federal lawsuit alleging that they had been raped, assaulted or harassed while serving, and were targeted by superiors after reporting the attacks.

The Pentagon has repeatedly deplored sexual assaults and insisted that it has no tolerance for such attacks. In December, it announced a new policy that gives those charging a sexual assault the option of a quick transfer to another unit or installation. The Department of Defense has also stepped up training in handling such cases and in preventing assaults.

But the military system dealing with the issue remains a broken system, Ms. Speier said. The Defense Department estimates that more than 19,000 service members were raped or sexually assaulted in 2010, yet only 13 percent of them actually reported the incident. In those 13 percent of cases, she said, only 8 percent of the perpetrators were prosecuted, and an even smaller percentage were convicted.

"I'm here to decry a code of dishonor that protects rapists and punishes victims. I'm here to call out an entrenched chain of command that squashes reports of sexual assault because they bring unwanted attention to the unit," Ms. Speier said. "I stand here ... to tell the story of a U.S. service member who was raped by a fellow service member and then robbed of justice by an unfair system that puts too much power in the hands of a single commander."

First Published 2012-03-07 23:20:51

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