The American Legion's governing body today approved a resolution urging the U.S. Armed Forces to enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault committed by and against members of the U.S. military. The resolution comes during a week in which the Air Force's chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested and charged with sexual battery – and the Pentagon reported that sexual assaults in the military are occurring at a rate of more than 70 per day.
"Even before these two incidents, The American Legion already had taken an active role in raising awareness about the issue of military sexual trauma," American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said. "Nearly a year ago, Legion representatives testified before a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee that the Department of Veterans Affairs should adjudicate cases of military sexual trauma in the same manner as veterans suffering from combat trauma. The Legion has called for every VA facility to have a military sexual trauma coordinator on staff.
"But treatment is only half of the equation. The other half is prevention of the assault, and one way to prevent a crime is to make the punishment severe enough to deter that crime from being committed. The Department of Defense needs to send a message throughout its ranks that those who commit this crime will be dealt with severely."
Convening authorities in court-martial proceedings have the power to dismiss or set aside finding of guilty, as well as the power to reduce the degree of punishment issued by a judge or panel. Resolution 9, passed by the Legion's National Executive Committee in Indianapolis, urges Congress to pass legislation prohibiting convening authorities from dismissing or setting aside a finding of guilty – or reducing a finding of guilty to a lesser offense – in cases of sexual assault. The Legion also urges the Defense secretary to direct the Joint Chiefs of Staff to "take necessary measures to dismantle any military culture that condones, tolerates or otherwise allows sexual assault among servicemembers as an acceptable form of behavior."
Passage of the resolution came within days of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski – head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention and response branch – was arrested and charged with sexual battery. He was relieved from his position.
The Pentagon's report also showed that the number of anonymous claims of sexual assault in the military grew from 19,000 in fiscal 2011 to 26,000 in 2012.
"The men and women wearing this nation's uniform are among the best and brightest our country has to offer," Koutz said. "But in those instances when a crime of this nature is committed by one servicemember against another, the uniform of the perpetrator is disgraced and justice must be served. There can be no gray areas. If you sexually assault a fellow servicemember, you will receive the punishment you deserve."
On Tuesday, DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a revised sexual assault and prevention plan, as well as the implementation of measures specifically addressing accountability, command climate and victim advocacy.
"I applaud Secretary Hagel for responding quickly to this situation," Koutz said. "The safety and welfare of our men and women in uniform need to be the highest priority, and this new policy is a positive step in that direction."