Women serving in the military live in debilitating fear of sexual assault, North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan said on Monday.
“Women actually have told me they’d limit the intake of fluid in the late afternoon, early evening, so they don’t have to use the latrine late at night in the middle of the night, because they’re worried about sexual assault,” the Democratic senator said on Monday’s Morning Joe, speaking out against the military’s sexual assault crisis.
Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, said she supports the bipartisan Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 which aims to do “what we did 20 years ago” in civilian courts, creating sexual assault victims’ advocates and special victim’s units.
“This is a crime and it needs to be addressed as a crime, this is not a cultural phenomenon” Hagan said, advocating the full prosecution of assaults. “The military code of justice needs to address it as a crime.”
Military and political leaders have lamented the lack of a “silver bullet” to fix the astounding numbers of sexual assault cases in the military. About 26,000 military members were reportedly assaulted last year, according to a Department of Defense report released earlier this month. Survivors recount their careers suffering or even being ruined if they chose to report their rapes, while others see jury convictions overturned by rapist’s bosses.
Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass added that politicians and officials are underestimating how “corrosive” the epidemic would be.
“The military as an institution is based on your ability to trust the person next to you,” he said on Morning Joe. “This gets at the heart of the military’s ability to function.”
Haass’ comments echoed those made by President Obama last week after a meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top military and national security personnel.
“Not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be,” he said. “This is not a sideshow. This is not sort of a second-order problem that we’re experiencing. This goes to the heart and the core of who we are and how effective we’re going to be.”
Hagan was one of a handful of red state senators who voted in favor of background checks in the Senate; her vote boosted her approval ratings. (“Thank you for your vote on that,” host Joe Scarborough added.)
Watch the full discussion below.