“We must do everything we can to put an end to these abuses. They are ruining the lives of thousands of patriotic women who wanted only to serve their country but fell prey to men who abused positions of power.’
Recent allegations of sexual assault by members of our armed forces have refocused national attention on a problem that is sadly familiar.The U.S. military is known for its strong integrity, rigorous standards and commitment to excellence, yet the disturbing prevalence of sexual abuse is victimizing thousands of women and damaging the military’s image.
It is anathema to American values and, in a word, infuriating.
The statistics are appalling. According to the Department of Defense nearly one in four women in the military reports having experienced unwanted sexual contact since joining. In 2012, there were over 3,000 reports of sexual assault involving service members, but with thousands of cases going unreported, the Pentagon believes this is only a fraction of the true number.
With Texas being home to 15 major military installations and well over 100,000 service members, our state has a massive stake in fixing this problem.
To their credit, military leaders have taken steps to address this crisis. Yet, the current programs designed to promote awareness, increase prevention and offer assistance to victims have proven inadequate. The problem persists, and it calls for our full attention and swift action.
The Constitution provides for civilian control of the military, and thus Congress is using its oversight powers to solve this problem. In response to the scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, I placed a temporary hold on the nomination of the current Air Force Chief of Staff until I received a personal commitment from him to fully and aggressively address the issue. I also co-sponsored legislation, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, designed to crack down on offenders, protect victims and prevent future abuses from occurring. Among the policy prescriptions in this legislation are a prohibition on allowing felony sex offenders to join the military and mandatory discharges of service members convicted of sexual assault while serving in the military.
Despite these steps, it is clear that more needs to be done. Building on these efforts, I have joined a bipartisan group of senators in co-sponsoring the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013. This bill would plug gaps in current policy, enhance the Pentagon’s power to combat sexual assault and provide victims with greater assistance.
We need to understand the forces at work in the military that lead to sexual abuse, and we need to get out in front of this problem. This bill is designed to make that happen.
Any sexual abuse is an abhorrent violation of the fundamental dignity of a human being. Yet such transgressions by those in uniform are set apart by the stark contrast between the depravity of their actions and the high standards that the American people demand and admire in their military. We must do everything we can to put an end to these abuses. They are ruining the lives of thousands of patriotic women who wanted only to serve their country but fell prey to men who abused positions of power.
To quote the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, “We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem.” We must not lose that confidence, and I would add that we need those women to help us solve this problem. Both the moral rectitude and military strength of our country depend on it.
Senator Cornyn serves on the Finance and Judiciary Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.
By U.S. Senator John Cornyn