Sexual assault in the military is what commanders would call in tactical terms “an insider attack,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said during a session with bloggers today.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told those taking part he has been thinking recently about the idea of “American exceptionalism” and the part the American military plays in that idea.
He has concluded that what makes the American military exceptional is the bond of trust that binds it together. “We ask (young men and women) to put themselves into harm’s way, and to do that they have an incredible degree of trust among them,” he said. “That is why this crime is so corrosive and damaging to the military because it erodes those bonds of trust.”
Dempsey attended the memorial service yesterday for the three soldiers killed at Fort Hood, Texas last week.. “It was essentially an insider attack, that’s how we would describe it in tactical terms: Where one of our own turned against us,” he said. “And that’s the perfect description of what happens in a sexual assault: it’s where one of our own turn against us.
“Sexual assault is an insider attack and we have to treat it with the urgency and the seriousness that it deserves. And we are.”
Combatting the crime depends on good leadership from the top down and bottom up, the chairman said. “That means we have to have the right policies in place and we’ve got to have leaders at every level – including our youngest leaders – who are alert to and vigilant to the kind of behaviors that lead up to sexual assault, and they’ve got to be committed to dealing with it when it occurs,” he said. “That means no bystanders in this issue.”
Commanders are best placed to provide this leadership, Dempsey said. Some lawmakers want to shift prosecution from the Uniform Code of Military Justice to civilian courts, taking the matters of charges out of the hands of commanders. “In my conversations with members of Congress it is my strong belief that these issues must be solved with commanders and not around them,” he said.
But the chairman is flexible. “If it occurs that after a period of very intense and renewed emphasis on this that we can’t solve it, I‘m not going to fight it being taken away from us,” he said. “I want to solve the problem. I just happen to think we can solve it best with commanders at this point. If this is demonstrated to be ineffective then I will no longer provide advice that it should stay in the chain of command.”
The chairman believes now though that the chain of command is best suited to deal with sexual assault. Prosecution rates, and the number of cases brought to trial back the chairman up on this belief.