The military's record on sexual assault prevention and victim support is absolutely abysmal. In the past few months alone, the armed forces have faced numerous sex scandals, from a Department of Defense report that found a 35% jump in sexual assault cases from 2010 to 2013 to the fact that the head of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program was himself arrested for sexual battery. Just a few hours ago, it was reported that a U.S. general stationed in Japan has been suspended for mishandling a sexual assault complaint.
In light of all these horrible stories, it's refreshing to know that at least somewhere, steps are being taken to address this rampant rape culture in our armed forces.
On Friday, the Air Force named a woman to head its expanded Sexual Assault Prevention Program. Major General Margaret H. Woodward is now the director of the program, and as one of the standout officers of the Air Force, she is confident that she can make a difference.
Woodward's stellar career in the Air Force began in 1983, and she flew and commanded several operations around the world. Most impressively, she was the first woman ever to command an entire U.S. air campaign, as she did in 2011 in Libya against dictator Muammar Qaddafi. She has also served as chief of safety in the Air Force, ensuring safety protocols were to date and followed for weapons and systems.
As director of the Sexual Assault Prevention Program, Woodward would be tasked with implementing the Pentagon's plans to decrease sexual assault as well as addressing the cultural factors in the military structure itself. So far, the exact measures are still being debated in the Senate, but current legislation includes provisions for eliminating the five-year statute of limitations on sexual assault trials, removing the right of commanders and officials to reverse court-martial rulings in cases of sexual assault, and requiring a dishonorable discharge for anyone found guilty of sexual assault. Ways to address the military culture will be left up to Woodward, who will create her own plans to tackle that issue.
As Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said to the House Armed Services Committee, "It is paramount that we protect those who protect this nation." Appointing Woodward as the woman to lead the charge was a smart idea, but now it's up to Woodward to prove that she can and will make a difference.