Restricted Reporting for Sexual Assault in the Military

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I know we talk a lot about rape culture and how it’s prevalent in our society, but there’s one aspect of rape culture that needs more discussion: the military. The military justice system is broken. According to the Department of Defense, they estimate that there are about 19,000 sexual assaults against women and men in the military per year. (Even though that’s just an estimate, and the rate of sexual assault is rising.) Yet only 1,108 troops filed for an investigation; only 575 of those 1,108 were processed and, of those 575 only 96 went to court-martial. That means 99.5% of reports never saw trial. Justice will never be served or addressed for 99.5% of sexual assaults.

One in three military women have been sexually assaulted, which is twice as high at the civilian rate. Clearly, the military has a problem that needs to be solved, and fast.

How does the military attempt to help victims? They give them two options for reporting an assault, “restricted” and “unrestricted.” Unrestricted reporting allows a victim to get medical attention, receive counseling, and triggers a full investigation into the alleged assault. The restricted reporting allows for the person reporting sexual assault to seek medical attention and counseling, but there is no investigation. It completely takes away accountability from the alleged assailant.

Through this process, the victim cannot ask for a protective order, cannot speak about her assault except with the healthcare providers or counselors, cannot invoke the collateral misconduct provision of the department’s sexual assault policy, and will find obstacles in order to switch from restricted to unrestricted.

I’m not against this option; I understand why it’s there. I understand that a victim might feel fear, guilt, and shame for what happened, and the victim is likely to face backlash for reporting her alleged assailant. Giving victims this option means that victims will report more often and finally getting the help they need.

But this doesn’t help stop sexual assault. If the military wants to fix this problem, wants to truly end this epidemic that is affecting women and men in the military, they would target the actual issue: the alleged assailant.

Having this option doesn’t stop the epidemic, doesn’t hold anyone accountable, and will allow this to happen to someone else. They cannot expect to eliminate their sexual assault problems if they refuse to hold people accountable. How is that prevention or even a response to sexual assault?