Local military expert estimates more than half of all cases of sexual assault or harassment go unreported in the military

Ret. Big. Gen. Kim Field said she supports a proposed bill in the U.S. Senate that aims to reform the process for reporting and investigating claims of sexual assault in the military.
Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 6:33 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - “I hate to say it but I think [sexual assault and harassment in the military] is a widespread problem.”

That’s how retired Army Brigadier General Kim Field started the conversation on First News at Four about the proposed Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz joined a bipartisan group of senators proposing the act. They say it will reform the way the military handles cases of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The bill’s author, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, says it aims to protect service members and take the proper steps to address assault allegations. She said the bill will improve the physical security of military installations, and increase training and education on sexual assault for service members and commanders.

The proposal calls for trained, independent professionals to handle cases of sexual assault which would take them out of the hands of the chain of command.

Field says that’s important.

“Inside one unit, if an allegation is made, the commander and that person’s chain of command get to decide how it’s handled,” Field explained.

She says that can complicate the way an allegation is handled and in some cases, prevent the survivor from reporting an incident.

“There are many reasons why things don’t move along as they probably should,” Field says, “it has a lot to do with military culture. It has a lot to do with unit cohesion. And a big source of the problem is that, mostly women, but it’s not all women but mostly women, fear, reporting in the first place.”

She says that’s reporting has increased over the past decade but she estimates that more than half of the cases of sexual assault or harassment go unreported in the military. But Field thinks this bill could provide a path forward.

“Everyone has tried everything we can,” Field said, “and it’s time to try this now.”

She said she’s apprehensive about breaking the chain of command that provides a structure to our military. But she says she’s willing to break it if it means protecting servicemembers from being abused.

Retired Staff Sergeant Marylyn Harris sees the issue differently. She says she experienced a culture of oppression when she tried to report her abuser.

“Those of us that have had this experience that initially when we were violated, we would tell a superior,” Harris explained, “and sometimes, that would be met with a hostile environment.

“It was like we were the ones that had done something inappropriate by mentioning it.”

Harris served as an Army nurse during Operation Desert Storm. She’s a survivor of sexual trauma in the military and now she’s an activist for survivors of military sexual trauma.

She said resources to protect survivors of sexual trauma were limited and those resources that were there didn’t provide the necessary support. But she’s hopeful about the proposed bill.

“I definitely believe it’s a step in the right direction,” Harris said, “at least we’re talking about it, and we’re trying to put some legislation behind the changes [activists have been pushing for].”

She said simply proposing a bill like this is a major step forward.

“I served at a time when we weren’t talking about it,” Harris explained, “people did not think that this was happening in the military to women, and men.”

But she said the conversation on sexual trauma in the military is slowly evolving.

“I do think the culture is changing a bit,” Harris said, “however, it’s a long, long, long, way to go.

“These things are still happening in our military, to our heroes, and it has to stop.”

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