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"Pass the MJIA"

(SNN) - In the USA thousands of military men and women are waiting for Congress to reconvene in December and, hopefully, pass the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 (MJIA). What the MJIA is designed to do is take authority over sexual assault, sexual battery, rape (all come under the term Military Sexual Trauma [MST]) and other serious crimes perpetrated against U.S. Military members out of the hands of commanders and into the hands of trained and qualified attorneys and other legal professionals in the military Judge Advocate General (JAG) system.

It's extremely controversial because military commanders do not want to give up any authority and MST survivors no longer have confidence in the current system of justice, meaning in the commanders and the command system which often punishes survivors and rewards perpetrators. Indeed, the military has given waivers allowing many kinds of convicted criminals to serve, including rapists.

That doesn't sound like a very good command decision. Did they think rapists would NOT negatively impact military discipline and undermine command effectiveness? Putting a rapist in an inherently misogynist organization like the military is like putting a kid in a candy store with no oversight and expecting him not to binge--only the consequences are far more severe.

There are many reasons why most MST survivors no longer trust the current justice system and don't support commanders retaining authority in these cases, but let me give one high profile example and you decide if survivors' concerns might be justified.

In 2012, U.S. Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson was charged with sexually assaulting a physician's assistant serving in the military, while she was a guest in his home. A courts-martial was convened and Lt. Col. Wilkerson was convicted of Aggravated Sexual Assault. In January of 2013, his commander, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, within his legal rights as things currently stand with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, voided Wilkerson's conviction against the recommendation of the General's legal counsel--effectively pronouncing Col. Wilkerson innocent.

Later, Lt. Gen. Franklin said his reasons for overturning the case were that he found Wilkerson more credible than his accuser, in part because he doubted Wilkerson would risk his family and career by engaging in sexual misconduct.

Fortunately, Wilkerson was later moved to another command and was eventually busted in rank to Major and forced to retire.

In 2012 alone, the Department of Defense estimated there were 26,000 cases of sexual assault or rape within all branches of U.S. Military. Of those 26,000, a little over half were male victims. Male victims are estimated to represent approximately 1-12% of all males serving. Female victims represent approximately one-third of all women serving. This problem of sexual assault and rape by fellow soldiers of women and men serving in the military goes back at least to World War II, and this doesn't include rape and sexual assault of military dependents, local civilians, and civilian employees of the military.

Clearly the command structure has not gotten serious about these serious crimes in its ranks. Only with the threat of losing some of its authority, and the continuous pressure by MST survivors and women Senators, like Kirsten Gillibrand, has the military command structure begun to deal somewhat seriously with these crimes and the misogynist culture that makes sexual assault and rape so prevalent.

Military men and women deserve to have as much legal recourse for these crimes as the civilian populace does. They deserve to be taken seriously when they report these crimes. They deserve to report crimes without losing their careers and/or losing their VA benefits because of trumped up diagnoses of mental disorders.

What can YOU do to help? Call your U.S. Senators and urge them to pass the MJIA when they reconvene in December, 2013. Listen to MST survivors' stories. Most importantly, believe them and respect them for their courage in whistleblowing, because they are determined that no one serving in the military should ever again have to suffer as they have.


SHORT BIO: Maye Ralston is an opinion columnist for The Sage News and contributor to Writing Heartland blog. She is also a blog contributor and member of the Midwest Writers Workshop Planning Committee.

Photo: Some rights reserved by U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive) flickr photostream, The Sage nor this article endorsed.

DISCLAIMER: The above article is OPINION.The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the authors of The Sage Opinion and forum participants on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the The Sage News Network or the official policies of the The Sage News.
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