The disturbing arrests of an Army sergeant and an Air Force colonel who were responsible for training servicemembers to prevent sexual assaults have brought into acute focus to what has become a widespread problem: the staggering rise in sexual assaults within our military.
Senator Coons is determined to stop it and end the truly corrosive impact of this behavior in our armed forces.
According to the FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office report released last week by the Defense Department, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Another report released by the Defense Department late last month showed that more than 1 in 5 female servicemembers reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.
Stopping this trend has earned bipartisan and bicameral support in the form of the Military Justice Improvement Act, which Senator Coons helped introduce on Thursday.
Senator Coons, who described the rise as "chilling," told the News Journal that "we clearly have a cultural problem" in our armed forces, noting that a lack of real consequence has led to widespread abuse.
"This bill tries to strike at what is driving that continuing cultural problem, which is that the U.S. military has a legal system that is significantly out of date," Senator Coons said. "And it puts the responsibility for prosecution and conviction where it should be – in the hands of a competent prosecutor rather than in the hands of the officers who often don’t have the training or experience to handle it.”
The Military Justice Improvement Act would for the first time remove the decision whether to take a case to special or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced military prosecutors for all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL.