Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: Take sex assault cases away from military

‘Whatever you hear reported? It happens a lot more than anything you're hearing," a soldier waiting in line for her salad told me. "It's all hush-hush. Still."

We were talking about more than the wilted romaine and heavy-handed dressing at this Arlington, Va., salad place. This was about sexual assault.

The 29-year-old woman said she's been around scores of sexual assaults during her 10 years in the Army. A soldier under her command was raped a few years ago, and she had to fight for the case to be taken seriously by her superiors.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing a bill to move military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. She's got 26,000 reasons — that's the Pentagon's estimate of the number of men and women in uniform who were victims of some kind of sexual assault last year. But only 3,553 members of the military filed sexual assault complaints from October 2012 to June.

The reason for the huge gap, Gillibrand says, is that the alleged victims don't trust the chain of command.

But my salad bar friend said she's not so sure that cutting the brass out of the process is the answer to the problem.

"A commanding officer may know things about the case that others don't know," she said. And in the alleged rape, she was an advocate for the victim as a commanding officer.

"Whatever they decide, they have to change something," she said.

I wanted to talk to women in uniform about this issue, instead of interviewing advocates or politicians or victims and their lawyers. At gas stations, grocery stores and salad bars, I found that active-duty women had mixed feelings about how best to deal with sexual assault.

"I wouldn't want my chain of command to have anything to do with it," said a 28-year-old soldier, who said she has not been assaulted but couldn't imagine that a commanding officer should have anything to do with investigating and prosecuting an assault.

Another woman, 22, said she would have no problem with punishment being done through the chain of command because that's simply part of military culture.

Although they differed on how sexual assault should be prosecuted and punished, all of the women agreed on one thing: It's a huge problem.

So let's take a look at what happened when a case was taken away from the military — this month's trial of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski.

The Pentagon asked Arlington, Va., prosecutors to hand Krusinski, who was then head of the Air Force office on sexual assault prevention, back to it after he was charged with a sexual assault count at a drunken Cinco de Mayo bar party. The prosecutors refused.

The charge was later bumped down to an assault. And after a brief trial, a civilian jury acquitted him of that charge.

Did the system work? Some folks argued that his military commanders would have punished him more severely than the jury did. But I liked the fact that he was subjected to a civilian judicial process.

His alleged victim said Krusinski came up behind her outside Freddie's Beach Bar that night, squeezed her behind, asked her how she liked it, then swaggered — or maybe staggered, since the police report said he'd been drinking heavily — off.

Witnesses said he was doing that all over the bar that night and had a couple of other targets, including a bartender. They all brushed him off. Not the 23-year-old graduate student. She confronted him and began hitting him in the face. She testified that she used her right hand. Other witnesses said the woman was bashing him with the cellphone she was holding her in her left hand.

Any woman who has ever been groped or violated understands the woman's primal response. The jury ultimately decided that conflicting accounts about the details of the assault and the woman's description of the beating were enough to drop the case.

But in the meantime, Krusinski was yanked from his sexual-harassment-prevention post, and the rest of the country got a good look at how ridiculous it was to have a man like this in charge of such an important program.

And that's where we see the real problem. With guys such as Krusinski — innocent of assault, but guilty of living up to boorish stereotypes — the military wasn't really taking this whole epidemic seriously.

What it has been doing simply isn't working. So, short of hiring a special force of cellphone-wielding avengers, trying anything new will be an improvement.

Let's hope a few more senators feel that way, too.

© 2013 Washington Post

Comments
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18