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Military punishment: Unwavering spotlight on sex crimes

Leeanna Rossi is a U.S. Navy veteran with strong views regarding the problem of violence within the military, most specifically sex-based crimes. She recently penned a detailed article on the subject for a media publication, which we believe is carefully written, passionately pursued and worthy of some comment.

Like many other Americans these days, Rossi expresses dismay with what she views as a material problem within the ranks that is not being sufficiently acknowledged or addressed. She states that military courts-martial proceedings are routinely shrouded in secrecy, which does a disservice to victims of sexual assault. She adds that commanding officers have too much power over criminal proceedings, that offenders are sometimes insulated from prosecution by the chain of command, and that victims are too often targets of retaliation.

Many of these points have been prominently noted in recent media reports, owing to high-profile stories on sexual assault cases and congressional initiatives.

Such a spotlight is obviously important, because it is important to routinely identify criminal activity within the military and purposefully deal with it.

In doing so, though, and especially during a climate of strong public condemnation of perceived sexual lawlessness within the military, it is equally important to maintain fairness in the legal process.

Rossi is pleased that U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps officials are zealously prosecuting sex crimes and "posting their results online for all to see." She notes that recent convictions and harsher punishments being meted out "are impressive and seem to be a step in the right direction."

Maybe. Conversely, though, and especially in light of the intense scrutiny being focused on sexual violence in the military, it can easily be argued that fundamental fairness and the presumption of innocence can be compromised when the public is clamoring for action and the punishment of defendants.

Many of Rossi's points are well-taken. When increased emphasis is being placed on securing more convictions and harsher punishments, though, it is imperative that balance be maintained in the military's criminal justice system.

Victims have rights, and their voices need to be heard. The same is necessarily true for those accused of wrongdoing.

Source: Deming Headlight, "Military sexual assaults: the punishments," Leeanna Rossi, April 29, 2014

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