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Sexual assault debate roils Defense Secretary's office

Accusations of sexual assault by military personnel are very serious charges. The inflammatory nature of many of these cases can prove very detrimental to any servicemembers' career. At the same time, the military services have been criticized for ignoring many incidents involving alleged sexual assaults or other sexual matters.

A leader of a group arguing for changes in how the military prosecutes those accused of these crimes now claims that the Pentagon has "demonstrated an appalling lack of seriousness" about the claims his group made and has asked for a meeting with the Defense Secretary.

The Pentagon had made the case that if legislation in Congress passed, it could lead to fewer prosecutions of sexual assaults cases. The Secretary sent a letter to Congress that argued the group advocating for reform had produced a report that was based on "misunderstandings" of military law.

The head of that organization countered that after 23 years as a judge advocate and four years as the Air Force's chief prosecutor, he did understand how the Military Code of Justice functioned.

The legislation had proposed that military lawyers, not commanders, would make the decision regarding sexual assault prosecutions. However, the language was removed from a large defense bill that recently passed, marking the fourth failure in the last three years of the effort.

This dispute is unlikely to go away, and the continued scrutiny of the sexual assault prosecutions may lead to pressure on prosecutors to bring cases that are questionable or based on weak evidence. Any servicemember facing such potentially damaging charges needs to be able to present an aggressive defense to protect their reputation and their career.

Source: airforcetimes.com, "War of words heats up between Pentagon, sexual assault victim advocacy group," Stephen Losey, June 6, 2016

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