Only a small fraction of service members sexually assaulted on the job report the assault in an actionable way, and for good reason—many who do experience retaliation. A majority of reported cases are not referred for court martial, and conviction rates are low. So the outcome of reporting sexual assault is vastly more likely to be that the victim faces retaliation rather than that the assailant is convicted.
“Repeated testimony from survivors and former commanders says that the widespread reluctance on the part of survivors to come forward and report is due to the bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command’s sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial,” a fact sheet from Gillibrand’s office notes. Right now these decisions are being made by military commanders, and, as Gillibrand noted in 2013, “not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.” Or at least, if they can, they may not want to.
Change is desperately needed, but the military is likely to continue to push to keep the unacceptable status quo, even while claiming to recognize that it’s unacceptable. Enough time has passed to show that smaller changes made under Obama weren’t enough. It’s time to go big, and Austin is going to have get himself right with that, and then bring the generals along with him.