Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth (Credit: Politico)
On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning, two female Iraq War veterans currently serving their first terms in Congress sharply criticized the military for its failure to address the increasing number of cases of sexual assault within its ranks.
Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) — who continue to serve in their reserve unites now that they have been elected to public office — are advocating for a measure that would remove sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command. As the two Congressmembers explained to host Candy Crowley, changing the way that the military currently handles rape cases would empower women to speak up without fear of repercussion from their commanders, as well as ensure that their complaints are handled objectively and fairly.
The Pentagon has traditionally opposed dealing with sexual assault complaints outside of the traditional chain of command. But, according to Duckworth and Gabbard, that drastic change is necessary because the military leadership has failed to adequately diffuse the victim-blaming rape culture that pervades the male-dominated armed forces:
DUCKWORTH: It’s absolutely unacceptable, Candy. I want the military to be a place where women can succeed and thrive the way I was able to. And the military leadership at this point have shown that they have not been capable of fixing this problem.
GABBARD: There are no excuses. It’s not enough just to say this is not something we’ll stand for, we’ll hold these people accountable unless you’re providing a system and process to actually do that. And I think there are two things we really need to look at. What is the core reason why this hasn’t really gotten better over the years? One being we have to make sure it’s a victim-centered response, from the moment the victim makes that report all the way through to the point where the perpetrator is prosecuted, charged, and punished. And secondly, making sure we are investigating those who are retaliating and abusing their positions of command or power.
DUCKWORTH: This issue is a power issue, it’s not a sex issue… The military, because it’s built on power and rank, has the ability to fix it based on that same tradition of power and rank. Commanders can put an end to this. And I am very, very disturbed that they have not been able to do this… We need to do something and we need to come up with a different system.
Duckworth and Gabbard agreed that the current sexual assault crisis signals that the military justice system has failed women. Ultimately, Duckworth explained, “this goes back to empowering the female service members to stand up, to know that when they speak up that they will be listened to and they will be treated fairly.”
Earlier this week, the Pentagon released a report that revealed there were an estimated 26,000 incidents of sexual assault in the military last year, as well as an alarming spike in sexual crimes that went unreported. President Obama called the rate of sexual crimes in the U.S. military “an outrage” and pledged to stand with victims of sexual assault. “I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs. I will support them,” Obama said. “And we’re not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability.”