Our #2 story is really a continuation of our #1 story last year, and the media and congressional obsession with military sexual assault cases. This year we saw continued attempts at tinkering with the military justice system to address issues, both perceived and real, with sexual assault in the military. See here (debate on earlier Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Gillibrand bills), here (Sen. Gillibrand’s recent push to remove commander authority over certain offenses, including sexual assault), and here (changes in MilJus in the FY15 NDAA).
In related news, the Report of the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel was released to Congress on June 27, 2014. The report recommended modest changes to the MilJus and military training, but also contained a strong dissent recommending that “[c]ourt-martial convening authorities . . . should no longer control the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases in the military justice system.”
And recently, initial results of the RAND study of military sexual assault (here) had mixed results as they probably more accurately estimated potential sexual assaults in the military–but that of course meant that the data showed more official reports of sexual assault but a “27% decrease” (S&S reports here and here) in the estimated number of service members that were subject to unwanted sexual contact. And while more official reports is one of the goals of this recent focus on sexual assault in the military, the seeming focus in the media and on the Hill is a numbers game that has very little to do with the real issue of preventing and prosecuting sexual assault, see our prior discourse on this subject here and here (to link a few).
But the actual cases also made headlines again this year. Some of the sexual assault cases in the headlines came, yet again, from the Academies, including a high profile acquittal in Annapolis (here and here) and an investigation of student athletes in Colorado Springs (here). And, again this year, commanders made headlines for handling–though mainly alleged mishandling (here and here (USAFA cases))–of sexual assault cases. And judge advocate leadership on this issue even grabbed headlines, here, when a top sex crimes trial counsel was reprimanded after allegations that he “kissed and groped a female officer while attending a conference on sexual assault prevention.” But the biggest case was, obviously, the conclusion of the Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair case in March, here. That case showed just how politicized the military justice system and the issue of sexual assault had become when the defense in the case successfully argued, and ultimately obtained a very favorable plea agreement and sentence as a result, that political influence had improperly swayed the convening authority to deny a plea agreement requested by the General, coverage here and here.