For nearly three decades, the U.S military has paid little more than lip service to the problem of sexual assault within its ranks.
There have been congressional hearings and table-thumping “zero tolerance” pronouncements, yet tens of thousands of service members are still victimized every year, by the Pentagon’s own admission.
But finally, a reform effort is gaining traction — the result, lawmakers and advocates say, of women speaking out in lawsuits against the government and two powerful film documentaries that have caught the attention of Capitol Hill.
A widening sex-abuse scandal at Lackland Airforce Base in Texas — where 15 male instructors have been charged or are under investigation for sexually preying on 38 young female trainees — has also put the issue back on the front burner.
In an interview this month, incoming Air Force Chief Mark Welsh III conceded sexual assault “has the potential to rip the fabric of your force apart. I think it is doing that to a certain extent now….I’m not an expert in this. I don’t know how to fix it, but I won’t quit working on it.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced several of more than two dozen reform bills now pending in Congress said the time for change is now.