October 20, 2018

Opinion: ‘Ask Her When She’s Sober’

Until Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach and her unborn child were murdered by Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean and buried in his backyard, her congressman, Mike Turner, had a ” target=”_hplink”>efforts to get Lauterbach’s murderer extradited from Mexico, where the dual national had fled, eventually brought him to do something that Boehner and Cantor despise. Before she was killed, Lauterbach had filed a claim at Camp Lejeune alleging that Laurean had raped her. That’s how Turner’s involvement with her murder — spurred by a request from her family — also became an education in the sexual violence plaguing the military, leading him to join with Massachusetts’ Democratic Rep. Nikki Tsongas to introduce ” target=”_hplink”>male veterans screened positive for military sexual trauma.

An invisible war is being waged against our troops. I call it that because “” target=”_hplink”>Ariana Klay, a Marine whose ” target=”_hplink”>lawsuit that she and seven other women filed, conveys what victims are up against.

But the problem is more than the culture. It’s built into the structure of the military justice system, where the process for prosecuting rapists is run by the same chain of command that includes and often protects the rapists. The victim remains stationed on the same base as her assailant. The people assessing her truthfulness are the same people who are in charge of her career, and whose own careers would get a black eye if it came to light that sexual predators were tolerated under their command. 

Without an independent judiciary, it’s no surprise that only 8 percent of sexual assault allegations in the military are prosecuted, compared to five times that figure in the civilian world. Fewer than 21 percent of those go to trial. Only 2 percent of reported assaults result in conviction. But a staggering 90 percent of those who report a sexual assault against them are involuntarily discharged, often with a suspect “personality disorder” diagnosis. They’re not only sluts, they’re nuts.

Instead of aggressive prosecution, the Pentagon’s strategy has been prevention. The campaign slogan adopted by the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office says it all: “Ask Her When She’s Sober.” It is, as a New York Times ” target=”_hplink”>announced more funds for training investigators and judge advocates to prosecute crimes, and more opportunities for victims to report crimes and request speedy transfers, as long as their reports aren’t confidential.  Stronger — because unlike Panetta and Turner-Tsongas, it deals with some of the structural problem of military justice — is the ” target=”_hplink”>introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and 120 co-sponsors that would take reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care out of the normal chain of command, and put jurisdiction in a newly created office made of civilian and military experts. 

So far, only one Republican has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Speier bill. If the GOP were smart, it would jump at the chance to stand up for women in the military. It shouldn’t have to take something like a constituent’s murder to get more Republicans to notice how unjustly and indecently some of the best and bravest Americans in uniform are being treated.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.