Military sexual assault: Another prevention coordinator investigated
by Clare Kim
Another U.S. service member is being investigated for ”abusive sexual contact” and other alleged misconduct just one week after an Air Force officer working in the sexual assault prevention office was arrested and charged with sexual battery. The U.S. Army Sergeant First Class who had been assigned as a coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, has been suspended from all duties.
A defense official says that this Sergeant 1st Class is being investigated for forcing at least one subordinate soldier into prostitution, and for sexually assaulting two other soldiers. Stationed at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters in Fort Hood, the sergeant also worked as an equal opportunity adviser. The allegations surfaced while the soldier worked with one of the Corps' subordinate battalions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a full investigation. Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting the investigation.
The soldier has not been charged and the Army has not released his identity.
A statement released by the Pentagon said that all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters will be re-trained to address the broader concerns in light of recent events. “I cannot convey strongly enough [Secretary Hagel's] frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” the statement read.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who serves as the chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, has led the charge to change the Pentagon's sexual assault policy. The senator released a statement Tuesday evening.
“To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement. For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be the tip of the spear preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act. We have to do better by the men and women serving. And assure them that they will be serving and not be attacked by their colleagues, and not be subject to this kind of treatment.
We have the best and the brightest serving in our military. We have the greatest military in the world. And we ask everything of them. We ask them to even die for their country. We should not be asking them to be subject to sexual assault and rape.
It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn't working. I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision making process for these types of serious offenses.”
Sen. Gillibrand is working to remove major criminal cases from the military's chain of command altogether in a bill she will introduce Thursday with Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas also released a statement on the alleged sexual assault.
“It has become painfully evident that saying the military has a cultural problem in regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, is a glaring understatement. At worst, this is a deep-rooted and widespread acceptance of unprofessional, inappropriate and criminal behavior. At best, it is willful denial or head-turning on the part of too many military leaders.”
The ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations charged military leaders to action. ”These damaging and unimaginable incidents demand immediate and significant action,” Tsongas said.
Sen. Patty Murray, who introduced a bill last week offering to better protect military sexual assault victims from systemic challenges, also expressed her outrage.
“This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators,” the senator said. “It's an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims–who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults–that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes.”
The Pentagon released an alarming report last week that showed increased sexual assault in the military, raising new doubts about whether the country's armed services can effectively prosecute sexual assault cases within their ranks. Secretary Hagel and other Pentagon leaders have said it would weaken military leaders' sense of responsibility and accountability if these cases are handled outside the chain of command.
According to the Pentagon, the number of reported assaults in fiscal year 2012 rose 6% to 3,374, which is up from 3,192 in 2011. For women in active duty, the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact increased about one-third from 4.4% to 6.1% (to 26,000 cases) over the course of two years.
Vermont OKs assisted suicide bill
by KYLE CHENEY
The approval of an assisted suicide bill in Vermont brings to a close a 10-year battle in the state over the issue and delivers the third state-level victory for advocates seeking to advance the policy nationwide.
But the national implications for the bill — which won legislative approval Monday night and allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to some terminally ill patients — are tough to pinpoint. Backers were quick to say the momentum could open the door to advancing similar policies in states that have long resisted them.
“This historic legislative victory proves that the aid-in-dying issue is no longer the third rail of politics,” said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, who suggested neighboring states might take a fresh look.
But Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who strongly supports the measure and plans to sign it within six days, was more cautious about its implications. He said Vermont's action will surely influence the country's dialogue on end-of-life issues, but he acknowledged his state's path to legalizing assisted suicide is the result of a decadelong internal debate.
“We've had a very respectful, dignified conversation about a difficult issue where there are strongly held beliefs on both sides,” he said in a phone interview.
As Vermont becomes the first East Coast state to permit physician-assisted suicide, however, some of its neighbors aren't necessarily so sure. Just last year, Massachusetts voters turned down a similar proposal after a fierce campaign in which a coalition of advocates for the elderly and disabled, anti-abortion groups, the Catholic Church and medical professionals succeeded in turning voters against the plan.
Supporters of assisted suicide say it's a rarely used but critical tool for sick patients to take control of their destiny. The Vermont law permits doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients determined to be within six months of dying. Patients requesting the drugs must go through multiple evaluations, be deemed fit to make decisions and repeatedly affirm that they wish to die rather than submit to months of physical and cognitive decline.
Detractors say medical science often fails to accurately predict how long a terminally ill patient has to live. Some patients, they say, are likely to feel pressure to end their lives early rather than subject loved ones to their prolonged illness. Others worry that the safeguards are inadequate to prevent deadly pills from ending up in the wrong hands.
“This, in our opinion, is a terrible thing to have happen to our state … because it sort of sanctions suicide as a way of dealing with many end-of-life health care issues,” said Gerald McMurray, a board member of True Dignity Vermont.
Shumlin said he came to support what backers call “death with dignity” laws because of his parents.
“For me, it's watching my own parents grow older and them begging me … to ensure that they grow older in a state where they have some peace of mind that if they have a terminal illness that is extraordinarily painful, they have this option,” Shumlin said in a phone interview.
Just two states, Washington and Oregon, have assisted suicide laws on the books, and both were passed by ballot measures rather than through the legislative process. Several states, in addition to Massachusetts, have defeated measures on the ballot.
Physician-assisted suicide is not common in the states that allow it. From 1998, when the policy was implemented, through 2011, Oregonians obtained 935 prescriptions for life-ending drugs, comma and 596 used them. In Washington, which passed it in 2009, 103 residents obtained prescriptions in 2011, comma and 70 took the drugs.
Iowa City OK's application for grant to put cops in schools
If approved, Council members want focus to be on improved relationships rather than increased criminal cases
IOWA CITY – The City Council Tuesday night OK'd a grant application that would provide money to put armed police officers in secondary schools in the Iowa City Community School District.
The intent is to hire two new police officers to serve as what are known as school resource officers in the district's three high schools and three junior high schools.
The move comes as school safety has taken on added significance following last December's deadly elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
The City Council voted 6-1 to apply for the federal Community Oriented Policing Services grant, but not without some questions about the wisdom of such a choice.
Council member Jim Throgmorton, who cast the dissenting vote, said he was worried increasing the police presence in schools would increase the likelihood young people get drawn into the criminal justice system.
He said he supports the idea of improving connections between the police and youth, but “I'm not persuaded that having armed officers in City (High) and West (High) are the best way to do that.”
Council member Susan Mims, a former school board member, said, if officers do get assigned to the schools, there needs to be proper monitoring to make sure it does not lead primarily to more students getting in trouble with law enforcement.
“I think this is an opportunity to take a real leadership position and try to build some ties between the police department and the youth in this community,” she said.
The school board is expected to vote on the grant application May 21. Superintendent Stephen Murley has said while the officers would be used for security purposes, the goal also would be to improve relationships with kids. He also said the principals are supportive of the officers.
Police Chief Sam Hargadine noted that the city's so-called ad hoc diversity committee recently recommended that police officers have more positive interactions with the public.
“The SRO program is probably where I see us being able to do that so much better, so much more effectively,” he said.
Kingsley Botchway II, chairman of the diversity committee, said what he had in mind was more of an extension of community policing efforts.
“It's a little bit of a stretch as far as putting officers in schools,” he said.
Hargadine said that officers are regularly called to the schools now and are hired to be at many high school athletic events.
He also said the arming of the officers is not negotiable for him because part of the reason they would be in the schools is to protect against a public safety catastrophe.
If the grant is approved, the city would pay for training, equipment and patrol cars for the two officers, Hargadine said. The school district would cover the matching funds for the grant and for the officers' compensation after the grant expires, he said.
The federal money would stop after three years. The four-year agreement envisioned by the city and the school district would require $211,498 in local matching funds.