By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Independent Review Commission on sexual assault in the military met for the first time Wednesday, announced its 13 task force members, then worked hard to convince skeptics that what they produce will be significantly different in conclusions and results than multiple past efforts to change the military’s damaging culture regarding sexual assault.
A look at headlines from the past decade supports the skepticism.
“I (also) think that what makes this moment in time different are the words of President Biden and Secretary Austin, who have both said that all options should be on the table,” Lynn Rosenthal, the commission’s lead, told Pentagon reporters in various iterations. “And one of those is carefully examining the role of command in decisions to refer cases to prosecution, and we will be considering that very carefully.”
A key battlefront will be a proposal to strip from commanders the ability to determine prosecutions for sexual assault as a key way to how to make the military more accountable regarding sexual assault and how it can better prevent assaults and support survivors.
That idea is strongly opposed by senior military leaders, who insist commanders must have this decision-making power in order to maintain the good order and discipline of their units. Lawmakers and others scoff at those assertions and say the same commanders have been at best lax and at worst bias in prosecuting sexual assault.
“We have given the military enough time and enough resources to fix this problem,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is pushing the plan to remove jurisdiction from commanders, said Wednesday. “Not one of these steps has reduced sexual assault within the ranks. We are right where we were when we started.”
A glance at Reuters’ headlines over the past decade reveals similar laments, a similar vow to solve the problem, and a similar lack of progress in dealing with the issue — which many feel has gotten worse. They include:
January 18, 2012: DoD seeks to crack down on sex assaults in ranks
April 16, 2012: Panetta offers steps to curb sex assault in military
May 7, 2013: Pentagon chief vows to ‘fix’ military’s sexual assault problem
August 15, 2013: “Pentagon unveils measures to combat sexual assaults in the military
March 7, 2014: U.S. Senate rejects a bid to overhaul how military handles sexual assault
December 27, 2013: Pentagon sees 50 percent rise in reported sexual assaults
December 30, 2013: Obama orders one-year review of sexual assault problem in military
December 2, 2014: Senators renew push on military sexual assault cases
February 4, 2015: Obama defense nominee vows to fight sexual assault in military
May 1, 2015: Pentagon chief says more work needed in sexual assault fight
May 5, 2016: Sexual assault in military is underreported: official
January 31, 2019: Increase in sexual assault at U.S. military academies: survey
May 2, 2019: Sexual assaults in U.S. military spike despite Pentagon attempts to crackdown
The panel was announced the same day Pentagon’s inspector general released a report outlining how a former Navy civilian auditor sexually harassed at least a dozen female employees for more than two decades as part of a pervasive pattern of misconduct and retaliation that included requesting “sexual favors in exchange for career advancement, all under the guise of professional career ‘mentoring’.”
Rosenthal insisted this time will be different — maybe.
“I mean, certainly the IRC is hopeful that the secretary of defense and the president, ultimately, will adopt our recommendations,” Rosenthal said. “But I can’t say what the outcome might be.”