Donald Trump’s latest attempt to deflect criticism about a 2013 tweet in which he blamed the prevalence of sexual assault in the military on the presence of women has been to criticize the military court system for letting offenders go unprosecuted.
But a big reason the military court system is so ineffective at punishing sexual assault offenders is precisely because senior members of the chain of command are involved — and too many share Trump’s view that rape and sexual assault are inevitable given the circumstances.
This is the tweet in question:
26,000 unreported sexual assults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2013
“Many in the military would be nodding their heads in agreement in that statement. I would not say the majority, but too many would be,” said Col. Don Christensen, former Air Force chief prosecutor and president of Protect Our Defenders — an organization dedicated to ending rape and sexual assault in the military — in an interview with The Intercept.
Trump defended his views on sexual assault in the military on NBC’s Commander-in-Chief forum on Wednesday.
“Well, it is — it is — it is a correct tweet,” he said.
NBC’s Matt Lauer asked: “So this should have been expected? And does that mean the only way to fix it is to take women out of the military?”
Trump responded: “Well, it’s happening, right? And, by the way, since then, it’s gotten worse. No, not to take them out, but something has to be happen. Right now, part of the problem is nobody gets prosecuted. … You have the report of rape and nobody gets prosecuted. There are no consequence.
“When you have somebody that does something so evil, so bad as that, there has to be consequence for that person. You have to go after that person. Right now, nobody’s doing anything. Look at the small number of results. I mean, that’s part of the problem.”
On CNN that night, former Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling echoed Trump’s view that rape in such cases is inevitable. “It is a problem, and there are ways that the military is fixing that problem,” he said, “but certainly when you put young people together, these kinds of things happen to a small percentage.”
Actually, in the current system victims often won’t report their assaults. “The low reporting and conviction rates of sexual violence are complicated. This is partially due to the revictimization of the reporting and judicial process,” wrote activist Melanie Carlson in The Hill.
Survivors of sexual assault in the military have been met with retaliation, a 2015 Human Rights Watch report found.
“I knew when I reported my career would be over. Based on past experience, I knew what would happen,” said Lisa Cox, a Navy petty officer, according to the report.
Time magazine reported that Army Lt. Emily Vorland was discharged for “unacceptable conduct” after an Army investigation into claims that a higher-ranking male sexually harassed her.
When an individual in the military seeks legal action, the case is brought to a court system where everyone is operating in a chain of command — something that Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has sought repeatedly to change through legislation.
Christensen said that sexual assault cases in military court are lengthy and arduous. “I have prosecuted and defended almost every case you can imagine — sexual assault is the most difficult you can do,” he said.
“No one should have to suffer the chain of command when they report these crimes,” Gillibrand said last year. “Retaliation happens so often that a majority of these assaults go unreported. Every military victim of sexual assault deserves due process, professional treatment by a trained military official at each opportunity to seek and receive justice.”