After 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military were reported to have occurred during 2012, a 37 percent increase from 2010, the Secretary of Defense decided to examine the systems in place for handling sexual assault cases. UC Hastings Academic Dean and Provost Elizabeth Hillman spoke about these issues on Nov. 6 as a part of the UC Social Justice Speaker Series.
Tied to the 3 + 3 program, which was implemented by UC Hastings and UC Santa Cruz, the series offers prospective law students the opportunity to connect with UC Hastings faculty and alumni and see their social justice projects in action.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), appointed Hillman to the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel (RSP). According to the official report released by the nine-member panel, its task, as appointed by Congress, was to review and assess the systems used to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual crimes to develop recommendations for improving those systems.
By the end of the yearlong investigation, the panel made a total of 132 recommendations in its official report spanning the topics analyzed by three subcommittees, each headed by a member from the original panel — Comparative Systems, Role of the Commander, and Victim Services.
At present, the commanding officer directly above the assailant and victim in the chain of command acts as both prosecutor and judge during a sexual assault case. Only 5 to 25 percent of sexual assaults are reported throughout the branches of the military. Hillman said there is a correlation between reports and the lack of trust in superior officers.
“How [House of Cards] handled it is quite close to reality,” Hillman said, referring to the Netflix political drama’s storyline featuring a high ranking officer who sexually assaulted a subordinate. “Convening authorities make [victims] not trust the system.”
Many of the superior officers are perpetrators themselves or restrict the reports, settling the cases outside of a courtroom and making the details unavailable for review, Hillman said.
Hillman, the head of the Comparative Systems Subcommittee, said removing legal power from the chain of command is essential. However, a change in the commanding officer’s role in the prosecution process did not appear in the panel’s list of recommendations.
Professor Hillman said she almost won over fellow panel member Harvey Bryant, Commonwealth’s Attorney of Virginia Beach, to help her sway the panel to recommend change in military protocol concerning the chain of command.
Instead of changing his vote, Bryant helped Hillman add a separate statement to the RSP’s report, which illustrated “the negative impact of inevitable failures of commanders to fairly and objectively act as prosecutors and judges.”
“[The members of the panel] were trying to do the right thing on all of the pieces of this big, complex issue,” Hillman said.
The Social Justice Speaker Series will return on May 14, 2015 when professor Joe Paul will hold a lecture regarding child labor in a talk called “Trading Up: How to Make Globalization Work for People.”