Memorial Day 2013: Time to Make the Military Safe For Women

Memorial Day means many different things to many different people: Delicious cookouts with family, a day off from work, the start of summer, and the return of Arrested Development.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the other part of what it means – remembering the lives we’ve lost and what we can do to honor and support our soldiers.

Recently, the statistics and scandals regarding rape in the military have dominated the news cycle. Just on Wednesday, it came out that a sergeant first class on the staff of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point faces charges for allegedly videotaping female cadets without consent – sometimes when they were in the shower.

All this on top of the recent news that the officer in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office had been arrested and charged with groping a woman in the parking lot, and two recent cases where an Air Force general has pardoned an officer found guilty of sexual assault.

Eliminating sexual assault should be a higher priority for the military. In 2007, there were 2,688 reported sexual assaults against military women – a number that likely undercounts the real number of sexual assaults, since many occurrences go unreported according to the National Women’s Law Center.

President Obama said it best when he said at a news conference, “If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged — period.”

Of course, much of this problem stems from the male-dominated culture of the military, the use of rape and sexuality as a tool to demonstrate power, and the presentation of women in the media as sexual objects instead of as human beings.

But complaining about it and making blanket statements isn’t going to change anything. You know what will? Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) legislation that moves key decisions in sexual-assault cases outside of the chain of command.

Moving reporting assaults outside of the chain of command makes it easier for victims to report assault without fear of retaliation, and holds the military system overall more accountable. This Memorial Day, right after you eat that hot dog, sleep in, and watch some Arrested Development, call or write your congressman and tell them you support this bill.