Newly-appointed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has promised to address the escalating sexual assault concerns within the US military. The US Senate confirmed Austin’s appointment during the first week of February, making him the first-ever African American at the head of the Pentagon. Austin wasted no time to tackle the issue head-on, ordering a review of the processes used by the Pentagon to review sexual assault cases in the various military departments.
Sexual assault becoming increasingly prevalent
Military sexual assault has skyrocketed in prevalence over the past two years according to the Department of Defense. During the course of 2019, 7,825 instances of sexual assault involving military service members were reported. This was a 3% increase from 2018. Despite the high incidence of sexual assault, conviction rates remain minimal, with only 7% of cases that were pursued resulting in a conviction. The shortcomings of the system were further highlighted by the murder of a 20-year-old US soldier in April 2020.
Reporting a crime should not result in death
Vanessa Guillen’s at the Fort Hood military base attracted large-scale media attention and sparked the birth of the military equivalent of the #MeToo movement: #IamVanessaGuillen. According to her sister, Guillen was the victim of sexual abuse before her murder. She informed her family was what happening but never reported the crime, as she was concerned that her safety would be compromised if she did. These are exactly the types of concern that President Joe Biden and Austin are both passionate about eradicating. Any sexual abuse lawyer will echo the importance of reporting sexual abuse cases. While no verdict or monetary settlement can erase what has happened, it is important that the guilty party is brought to book.
Change is needed, and it’s needed now
An official army report on Vanessa Guillen’s murder revealed Fort Hood to be a “permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.” Several leaders from the base were relieved of their duties following the incident. President Biden has been extremely vocal about shifting all sexual assault cases away from the military command chain to help guarantee that prosecutors are in no way connected to the accused. According to former US Air Force chief prosecutor and President of Protect, Our Defenders, Colonel Don Christensen, Austin’s appointment could bring the change that is desperately needed.
Victims remain hopeful
In an interview with global news publication Insider, a former soldier and sexual assault victim shared that there was a distinct feeling of hope among survivors. The 24-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous, was assaulted while stationed at an Air Force Base in Texas in 2018. She stated that being a victim herself has put her in a position to see just how flawed the current system truly is. She continued that although Austin’s true worth will only become clear in the months to come, she remains hopeful.
Austin’s appointment was welcomed by both survivors of military sexual assault and activists alike. They hope that he will be able to help effect a much needed and long-awaited change.