Deployment. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Self-medication with alcohol. Domestic violence. And finally, in some cases, sexual assault.
It’s a cycle that longtime retired military attorney Captain Tony Hosein has seen several times.
Hosein, who served as legal aid and special advocate for victims for the military before retiring in February, had helped dozens of domestic violence survivors – “I’ve seen the worst of the worst.” But cases usually didn’t reach his office until an abusive situation had escalated.
“A lot of times domestic violence leads to sexual assault. And I think it should be given the same attention and they should have the same resources available to them,” he said.
A two-year investigation by CBS News found that around 100,000 incidents of domestic violence have been reported to the military since 2015. Most of the roughly 40 survivors who reported domestic violence to the military and who spoke to CBS News described a faulty system.
“I started out very idealistic, you know, wanting to help, wanting to do better. And just somewhere over the years it was just – I felt like I was spinning my wheels,” Hosein said.
“Incidents of domestic violence in the military” were “more than double that of the national population,” according to 2019 data cited by the nonprofit Blue Star Families.
Liz Knight was one of the people helped by Hosein. While Military Police investigated and found probable cause to charge the person they accused of physically assaulting her, Knight’s case did not go to court martial. Instead, the alleged perpetrator received a local letter of reprimand, which she said was deleted from his file when he left South Korea.
“There was no protection for me. There was no help. There was no resource,” Knight said. “The soldier is an asset. They need him. They spent a lot of money training him to do his job. And who am I? As long as I’m withdrawn and I’m not part of the problem, then they have their soldier. ”
The military places more importance on the soldier than on the safety of the victim, Hosein said, because “the military is responsible for fighting the wars of this nation. So the most important thing for the military, they are his soldiers “.
“The soldiers are great at what they do. They are great at the wars in this country,” he said. “But when they get home, there is a disconnection. They are no longer in combat. A lot of them suffer from PTSD and other traumas.”
Before Hosein began working with survivors, he was the defense attorney for soldiers who allegedly committed sexual assault and rape. It gave him an unusual outlook. “There are people who have done horrible things that I might have helped, you know. But I got to see the other side, and the hurt, and the trauma, and the pain from the point of view. of the victim, “he said.
Department of Defense policy requires commanders to ensure that military offenders are held accountable. Commanders also have the power to make decisions about the outcome of a case, including whether it goes to court martial. Hosein said those decisions about the outcome of a case, including whether it should go to court martial, should be made by a prosecutor or a judge.
“Great for the soldier. But for the victim, it looks like she’s in a system rigged against her,” he said. “Until there is a drastic change, I think we will always see the same trends. Domestic violence in the military, I think, will persist.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he is taking the problem and its impact on the military and their families “with the utmost seriousness.”
“Sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence continue to plague our ranks. These crimes have profoundly damaging and sometimes deadly consequences for service members and our families, and have a fundamental impact on our readiness for combat,” Austin said. in a written statement to CBS News.
In a statement to CBS News, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote:
Sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence continue to plague our ranks. These crimes have profoundly damaging and sometimes fatal consequences for service members and our families, and have a fundamental impact on our readiness to fight. While I cannot comment on individual cases, I take these issues and the impact on the men and women in the service, and their families, very seriously. One of my first actions as Secretary of Defense was creating an independent review board on sexual assault and harassment in the military. In July of this year, the Commission made 82 recommendations regarding accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support. So here is what we do. First, we are working closely with Congress on legislative proposals to remove from the military chain of command decisions on whether or not to prosecute sexual assault and related crimes, including domestic violence. Second, the Department will create dedicated offices within each service to deal with these specific crimes. Third, we called on Congress to formally add sexual harassment as an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Finally, my team and I are reviewing an implementation roadmap for the many other thoughtful recommendations included in the IRC report.
Together, these are among the most significant reforms to our military in decades. Additionally, I have led immediate steps across the department to understand what is happening at the facility and unit level. We assess compliance with sexual assault and harassment policies and visit bases around the world that are either promising to identify solutions, or shed light on the positives and export best practices. We continue to focus intensively on increasing prevention efforts, training and streamlining and improving accountability mechanisms. And as always, we continue to focus on the care and support we provide to victims. The women and men of our armed forces dedicate their lives to defending our nation and deserve a workplace and a home free from sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence.
President Biden has made resolving this issue an unprecedented priority, and we have moved swiftly and deliberately to resolve it. I believe bold action, commitment and accountability are needed, and that is exactly what we have and will continue to do. This is not a short term problem and will not be resolved with short term strategies. This requires sustained action and commitment at the highest level of the Defense Ministry – every commander, civilian leader and force member must be a necessary part of the solution. Our people and our preparation are inextricably linked. These crimes endanger both. We find this unacceptable and we are not afraid to change what we do, how we continue and how best to prevent them. It’s a question of leadership, and we will lead.
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