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Congress takes on sexual assault in the military

Duration: 26:54
Congress wants to change how the military prosecutes sex crimes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand explains her bill.Transcript at vox.com/todayexplained. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport Today, Explained by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts Learn
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Congress wants to change how the military prosecutes sex crimes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand explains her bill.Transcript at vox.com/todayexplained. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoicesSupport Today, Explained by making a financial contribution to Vox! bit.ly/givepodcasts Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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the United States military has a sexual assault problem. It's had one for a very long time. Maybe you've heard of tailhook, there's a new york times documentary about it. Old stereotypes about sex crazed sailors have come back to haunt the Navy charges of sexual harassment by women who say they were men handled at a gathering of Navy fliers. It was called the worst case of sexual harassment in the Navy's history. More than 100 top gun pilots accused of conduct, unbecoming officers and gentlemen. 30 years ago this year, the american public became aware of how bad things were for women in the armed forces. This has been a difficult issue for the lady because it told us some of our people were not upholding the standards of behavior we expect of them tailhook also brought to light the fact that we had an institutional problem in how we treated women in that regard. It was a watershed event that has brought about cultural change. Everyone agreed something needed to be done. Such conduct and behavior are not acceptable for officers in our neighborhood. And I wont to ensure that the american people in our officer corps understand the egregious conduct described in this report is not now, never has been and never will be acceptable to Navy leadership and now 30 years later, things are just still really bad. In 2019, the number of reports on sexual assault in the military was up 3% close to 8000 reported cases, something like 5% of those resulted in convictions. It's gotten so bad that veterans are discouraging young women from enlisting. But Congress is just about as close as it's ever been to doing something that could address it. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand just unveiled a bill along with Republican Senator Joni ernst and they've got support from the president and even some of the top military brass. Before we get into the specifics of the solution though, let's talk about the problem and and part of the problem, believe it or not, is cake. One of the other things that the military has tried to do with questionable results is raise the profile of this issue um, by doing things like during sexual assault awareness month, having cake cutting to kick off the awareness month, or k cuttings cake cuttings or featuring teal pancakes, which is the color of the sexual assault awareness in um, in one particular base. Wait, sorry. So they do like fun baked food to raise awareness of sexual assault. It is an odd custom, but it's one that has taken place and the leadership will say that the point is to really inculcated awareness among the service members, but it does feel like an oddly celebratory practice when you're talking about such a serious phenomenon that continues to play the military. Missy Ryan writes about the military for the Washington post. We set aside the cake to talk about what's really, really wrong with the military, how they prosecute sex crimes compared to, say, the civilian world. The biggest difference between the civilian world in the military world is that the decisions around prosecution are made by the chain of command of any individual service member who makes an assault. And so you have an effect the boss of the person who is making an allegation deciding whether or not that case or that allegation is brought to trial in a military court, whether it results in some sort of administrative punishment or whether it's dismissed entirely. And advocates for change will say that that is a conflict of interest, potentially because the commander of the individual who makes the allegation could know the accused person, the commander could be involved in the case, him or herself. And uh, you know, it also raises the possibility of of reprisals. And and and that is something that really has deterred reporting in the past. How much legal expertise does the average military commander have fairly senior commander who's making this decision around prosecuting sexual assault. And they would have been in the military for a couple of decades and presumably would have dealt with all sorts of disciplinary problems within their units, but they're not lawyers usually, and they're not, certainly not sexual assault specialists. They will have a command lawyer who works for them who is advising them, but that person again is probably a generalist. And so that's why advocates are saying that there needs to be this specialist cohort of military lawyers who have greater expertise in assessing and bringing to trial sexual assault cases. Do we have any idea how having military commanders essentially play judge and jury in these cases of sexual assault has affected the outcome of complaints of these cases. You know, it's really hard to say on a broad basis, but anecdotally, you know, there will be people who say that they don't, they declined to report because they're afraid that their careers will be impacted, you know, and there's a small minority of sexual assault cases result in a conviction in the military, just like in the civilian world, you know, and there are people who will argue that one of the reasons the conviction rate is low in the military is that um, military lawyers will take sort of close cases to trial in a way that doesn't happen in the civilian world. Um, and so that results in, you know, a larger volume of trials and maybe a lower conviction rate. And it's really difficult to untangle that. But I think that the broader problem is that this continues to happen um, year after year, despite promises from senior leaders that the military is going to get this under control. And it really points to, in addition to some problems around reporting and prosecution, it points to a culture.
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