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Lee Rogers: Reduce military rapes with open hearings

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Posted: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

When volunteers sign up to defend our country, they don’t expect to be victims of sexual assault.

An epidemic of sexual assaults was recently uncovered at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

Lackland AFB is where our young Air Force recruits go to be indoctrinated in the military system.

For some women, part of that indoctrination was a rape by an instructor. More than 30 instructors have been removed at Lackland, and more than 70 members of Congress have co-signed a letter calling for an open congressional investigation.

Rape in the military is not only a problem at Lackland AFB. In 2010, an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults took place in the military and a great majority went unreported.

Women are the most frequent victims, but men are also targets.

Today, a female soldier in Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier, than killed in action.

Victims are often silenced by their superiors and the assaulter is usually a higher rank, making it difficult to seek justice.

Survivors of assault are often re-victimized by being blamed, charged with adultery or placed back in the close quarters with their perpetrator.

Some things in the military should remain secretive and stay behind closed doors, but not this issue.

The fact that it remains secretive leads to more sexual assaults because the perpetrators are not prosecuted or are only given minor punishments.

Those in the chain of command have shown that they are not capable of dealing with the situation appropriately.

Victims need a special military division, separate from the chain of command, to report rape and conduct investigations.

I would encourage anyone wanting to explore this issue further to see “The Invisible War” (www.invisiblewarmovie.com), a documentary about the mishandling of justice for female victims of rape in our armed services.

It comes from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick and just won at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It is a moving documentary telling the stories of real women who were raped by fellow soldiers and then told to keep quiet.

Congressional oversight of the military starts in the House and Senate armed services committees.

A nonprofit group, Protect Our Defenders, is leading the charge calling for an open hearing on the assaults at Lackland AFB.

Protect Our Defenders delivered 10,000 signed petitions to Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, chair of the House committee, asking for an open investigation. McKeon has yet refused.

In a closed briefing, an Army general asked that the committee not “hobble” commanders in the sex assault cases.

Last year, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, introduced the H.R.3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act. The bill still awaits action by McKeon’s committee.

We can honor our troops by giving them the protections they deserve.

We don’t tolerate rape as civilians and we can’t condone it in our military.

This is not a partisan issue. Recruits who are raped are both Republicans and Democrats. They are our sons and daughters. They are Americans who volunteer to put their life on the line for our country.

Rape should not be an occupational hazard to serving in our military. Support Protect Our Defenders (www.protectourdefenders.com) calling for an open hearing on the sexual assaults at Lackland AFB and let’s help to cast light on this troublesome issue and protect our troops.

Dr. Lee Rogers is challenging Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon in California’s 25th District.

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