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Military sexual assault: Is 'keeping it in the family' the right approach?

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he wanted to “review every aspect” of the chain of command in dealing with cases of military

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he wanted to “review every aspect” of the chain of command in dealing with cases of military sexual assault. This came after startling reports showed a significant uptick in sexual assault cases in the military in 2012, reaching 26,000 cases up from 19,000 in 2010.

As the system stands now, the military adjudicates its own cases in incidents of sexual assault. Hagel wants to keep it that way, saying that taking the responsibility away from the military would “weaken" the system.

But many are concerned that this approach is hurting the victims of assault, making it harder for them to report cases and more difficult to prosecute those responsible for the offense. “What people are concerned about is that keeping this in the family, keeping this in the military, means that there is so much isolation and insulation from outside accountability,” The Cycle’s S.E. Cupp said on Friday. “And these prosecutions are not having the desired result in staunching these sexual assaults." In fact, 62% of the women who experienced and reported sexual assault to Department of Defense authorities felt some form of social, administrative, or professional retaliation.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to improve protection for military members who report their sexual assault cases, thinks the problem is cultural--not judicial. She agrees with Hagel in thinking that taking the adjudicating power out of the military will send the message that it’s not the Commanding Officer’s problem if rape and assault is happening within his or her unit. S.E. Cupp worries, however, that these officers aren’t making it their problem as the system stands now. It’s not a question of legal training--as Sanchez points out, lawyers in the military are educated at the same law schools are civilian court attorneys--but a question of how the cases are being brought before a court

While some call for moving these cases to civilian court, Sanchez insists that the problem lies within the military. She told The Cycle hosts: “I believe that there are people who have stars on their shoulders who are rapists in our nation’s military. And we have to weed that them out and change the culture of what’s going on in there." Sanchez has previously said the increase in sexual assaults in the military “reflects a terrible problem of culture and climate in our ranks.”

This is not Congresswoman Sanchez’s first effort to fight the trend of military sexual assaults. Previously she worked to implement a sexual assault database in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, part of her attempt to “weed out” those sexual offenders who are destroying their culture and community.