Monday, January 25, 2021

In 2018, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis ordered the Department of Defense to "do more" regarding the plague of sexual assaults that was then, and remains, a huge problem within the U.S. armed forces. The following year, the rate of military sexual assaults and harassment increased, so apparently "doing more" didn't mean taking effective steps to actually make the military a safer place for our young women and men to work.

It's de ja vu all over again, with newly-minted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin releasing a memo on Saturday to his military commanders saying "we must do more" in the area of military sexual assaults and harassment.    But what does "more" mean, when we've heard this line before?

Today President Biden rightly reversed the Trump-era ban on transgender service members, moving the armed forces toward a culture of equal protection of the law and true equality amongst service members.  Hopefully such a egalitarian and just move is a sign that this Administration will also make real change in holding failed leaders accountable for their derelictions of duty regarding sexual assault  and harassment (see Fort Hood report for examples of such command misconduct).

In his memo, Secretary Austin concluded regarding sexual assault and harassment in the military that "“This is a leadership issue,” Austin concluded. “We will lead.”  Unless this is accompanied by real change, such as establishing a professional prosecutorial force of independent military lawyers who handle sexual assault and harassment cases instead of continuing to allow leadership failures in this arena (failures without consequence, as military leaders are never held accountable for disciplinary decisions they make, and there's little hope a career general like Austin will break that mold), then the U.S. armed forces will remain an organization that in some respects, remains unsafe for too many in its ranks.

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