News / USA

US Senate Acts on Sexual Assault in Military

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, following a Senate vote on military sexual assaults,  March 6, 2014.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, following a Senate vote on military sexual assaults, March 6, 2014.
Michael Bowman
The U.S. Senate has defeated one measure to boost prosecution of sexual offenders in the armed forces, and unanimously voted to advance another. Passionate debate centered on whether to remove authority for such prosecutions from the military chain of command.

The Pentagon reports that 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact occurred in America’s armed forces in 2012, only a small faction of which were prosecuted. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called that unacceptable.

“These are really courageous men and women. And while we cannot protect every member of our military from harm at the hands of America’s enemies, we should at least guarantee them protection from harm at the hands of their fellow service members," said Reid.

On Thursday, the Senate ended debate on a bill that boosts protections for victims of sexual assault and holds military commanders accountable for their units’ compliance with regulations on sexual conduct. But it retains commanders’ authority to decide which cases are brought to trial.

That is a problem, according to Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

“The people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims [of sexual assault]," said Gillibrand.

Gillibrand championed a competing bill that would have given military prosecutors authority to decide which cases to try. It was defeated on a procedural vote despite the backing of many sexual assault victims, including Paula Coughlin, who helped bring the issue to the nation’s attention more than 20 years ago. Coughlin and scores of other service members, most of them female, were assaulted at a 1991 military symposium in Las Vegas, Nevada - an incident that came to be known as the Tailhook scandal.

Coughlin, then a Navy lieutenant, says she first reported the abuse to her commander.

“And he was not receptive. In fact, he brushed off the complaint. The military chain of command is inherently biased, whether they do not believe that the victim was actually assaulted, or whether prosecution of that assault would adversely affect their command," said Coughlin.

Coughlin went public with her allegations, triggering a widely publicized investigation that led to demotions and early retirements of top Navy commanders.

Today, the Pentagon says it has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defends the role of commanders in deciding prosecutorial matters.

“It is my strong belief that the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure," said Hagel.

The Pentagon strongly opposed the defeated Gillibrand bill, but backs the alternative measure, which is widely expected to be approved by the Senate next week.

During floor debate, senators were unanimous in condemning sexual abuse. For Paula Coughlin, the emotional scars of the Tailhook experience are still with her. She says, “Not a day goes by that I do not think how things could have been for me in the military, and how they should have been.”

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid