New York, June 30, 2014—As the U.S. military struggles to come to terms with an epidemic of sexual assault among service members, Columbia Law School Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg today urged the Department of Defense to revamp crucial areas to improve responsiveness regarding sexual assault investigation and adjudication.
Goldberg submitted comments to the Department of Defense’s Military Justice Review Group on behalf of the Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, at the invitation of Paul S. Koffsky, deputy general counsel of the Department of Defense.
The military has acknowledged that sexual assault between service members occurs with staggering frequency. Faced with increasing demands from Congress, advocates and veterans to address the situation, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office has issued annual reports that detail training, incidents and investigations.
The Clinic’s comments focus on four areas that are particularly troubling:
- commander discretion over sexual assault investigations and punishments;
- the absence of thorough sentencing guidelines;
- the lack of sufficiently protective evidence rules; and
- related difficulties with the Boards of Corrections of Military Records and the Department of Veterans Affairs provision of benefits to service members who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of sexual assault.
“Effective military justice is just one part—but an important part—of addressing the serious needs of service members who suffer sexual assault by other service members,” said Goldberg. “Congress has pushed the military to step up its prevention efforts, but even the military’s leadership recognizes that the numbers of incidents continue to be high, and that most go unreported,” she added. “Improving the military justice system will not end the serious problem of sexual assault by service members but it will go some way toward changing an environment that tolerated serious sexual misconduct for far too long.”
Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic students Kimber Hargrove ’14, Sara Nies ’14, A.J. Garcia’14, and Jacqueline Rios ’14 contributed to the analysis presented in the submission.
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