Scott Jensen, Opinion contributor
A culture that allows so much crime is outside the moral bounds we should expect of our military.
The epidemic of sexual assault and harassment has recently exploded onto the national spotlight. Americans are fed up, and the need for revolutionary progress in stopping this national crisis is clear.
We have seen just how pervasive this epidemic is throughout politics, the entertainment industry and almost any other business sector you can name. This includes our United States military, the single largest employer in the world. We must demand fundamental changes to a military justice system that allows commanders to put our best and brightest at risk, and protects those who use their positions of power to prey on our country’s service members. It is critical to the security of our nation’s future. It is unacceptable that any institution, much less our military, the most revered and vital institution in America, be left to police itself after decades of failure. The stakes are too high.
The Pentagon’s most recent survey indicated that nearly 15,000 members of our armed forces have been sexually assaulted. As staggering as that number is, most victims were assaulted more than once, bringing the total assaults to over 41,000 per year, or 112 per day. To put that into perspective, that’s a company a day, a battalion a week, and a regiment a month, who were emotionally and physically wounded through the actions of fellow service members and the inaction of leadership. Assaults of an entire company each day is not a number with which I can live, nor should any other American. To add insult to injury, 83% of those who were assaulted refused to report, often out of fear of retaliation, harassment or impact on their careers. And the effect is long lasting. The Veterans Administration reports that 40% of female homeless veterans suffer from trauma resulting from a military sexual assault. Our nation’s defenders deserve better.
These trends must not continue. A culture that allows for such criminal activity and behavior is outside the moral and ethical bounds Americans expect of one of the most prestigious establishments in the United States. It presents a risk to our national security. This culture erodes the very foundation of unit cohesion and trust that is required for our formations to effectively defend our country. It eats from the inside at our defense readiness. It burdens recruiting and retention. How long will the mothers and fathers of America be willing to offer their children to the military’s ranks? How much are our military leaders willing to gamble on the future?
It’s time for military leaders to do their part in addressing this national crisis. For far too long, we have heard statements about “zero tolerance,” but statements aren’t protecting our troops. Military leaders must end the status quo and promote those who are doing a good job in leading cultural reform and end the careers of those who are not. Commanders must join the national dialogue and assume the same leadership role that the military has previously taken in so many other areas of society.
A battalion’s worth of soldiers grievously assaulted every week cannot be allowed to continue. Standing by is unacceptable. This moment calls for decisive action, change and reform. Our military leaders must take a stand and actively lead from the front. Congress also has a responsibility to actively and aggressively demand cultural and legal reforms that our military has proven unwilling or unable to enact on its own. Our defenders deserve trained prosecutors making legal determinations. Our troops deserve to work in an environment where they can trust those with whom they serve. It is time that we hold our military accountable for fulfilling its promise to provide the best to those who choose to fight for our country.
Colonel Scott Jensen, CEO of Protect Our Defenders, is a 27-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He commanded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to his retirement in 2016 he led the Marine Corps’ Sexual Assault and Prevention Office.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.