The actions of a few are ruining our national image

Victor Nieto:

Victor Nieto:

Victor Nieto

As I sit here in a comfortable study going through my daily routine of life – writing, and with the freedom to do more or less as I please – my mind wanders toward those who are protecting this great country.

I think of those brave military men and women who are willing to fight in the armed forces, and look up at them in a humble adulation and hope that their gallantry is unfettered. Although I highly respect and admire our military, it hurts me to say that not all is well in the company of “Uncle Sam’s” best and brightest.

In early February, 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Tyrone Luther Hadnott of the U.S. Marines was accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa, Japan, at an offshore military site home to more than 50,000 troops. Just thinking about such a reprehensible act sickens me, but what gets my furor going even more is how quickly these headlines have gone away as well as coming to the reality that these types of events happen more than you think.

The last high-profile rape case in Japan that involved our military was in 1995 when three U.S. servicemen were accused and convicted of raping a 12-year-old Okinawa girl. But those are the cases that get press headlines and regardless of the person’s age, rape or accusation of rape should never be tolerated, especially within U.S. military personnel.

Some of the most troubling in-house cases that I’ve come across have to do with the lack of action put forth by a superior officer when one of his/her squad members has come forth with an accusation of rape. Such was the case involving Marine Lt. Tara Burkhart, who was raped by a sergeant under her command.

Burkhart kept quiet about the event at first, coming forward with her accusations of rape a brief time afterward. Burkhart said her attorney called her command office where they replied by stating, “No. She’s lying. We don’t believe her. You shouldn’t either.”

Cases such as Burkhart are not isolated incidents, and in 2004 the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an exposé involving Air Force personnel stationed in Asia and the Pacific. From 2001 to 2003 there were 92 rape complaints involving 106 alleged offenders. Only seven of those men were court-martialed and four were convicted of rape with an average sentence of eight years.

The appearance of such events becomes more serious when you look at the statistics involved with military rape. In a 2005 “60 Minutes” interview with Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, Berkowitz stated that “three out of every 100 military women reported that they were sexually assaulted” and that the national civilian rate was about three out of a thousand.

So what’s to blame for such a lopsided statistic? Well, there are numerous factors including a male-dominated environment, an increase of military women (15 percent in 2005), but most importantly, alcohol played a prominent factor.

In another report by Berkowitz in the same “60 Minutes” story, he found that about 70 percent of the rape complaints involved alcohol and usually the accused was a person familiar with the victim.

It’s disheartening to learn about such revelations in our military, but progress appears to be moving along. After high-profile cases such as Burkhart and many others that were revealed on the national stage, the military has implemented mandatory education on sexual assault for all military personnel and has promised a confidential outlet for rape victims to receive help, among other positive mandates in the right direction.

Despite such horrible occurrences within our military branch, we must still remember that these actions are a representation of few and not the military as a whole. But it’s those few among the many honorable U.S. troops who stand out in the world, feeding the cynicism of our dissidents.

Events such as the one that occurred last month should not be tolerated and if the current form of discipline isn’t working then I believe it’s the imperative of the military to seek harsher punishments. Faster litigation of rape cases must be sought, more time or stricter punishments must be given to the convicted, and possibly the abolishment of alcohol in or around military bases should be considered.

I don’t enjoy harping on such a sour subject, but rape cases involving our military should be more persistently published in our headline news in hopes that it will bring quicker resolve to the overall situation. Sometimes it’s best to show the ugliness of an event to get the attention that it needs.

Victor Nieto can be reached at [email protected]