Might as well start off with what I feel is an important issue.
What follows is a copy of a letter I sent to several U.S. Congressional folk about a military law I encountered while serving in the Army. I spent time writing it trying to cover as much detail as possible showing why this law was a bad idea so I figure it explains itself.
I am a prior service member of the U.S. Army from January 13, 1995 to January 12, 1999 and also spent some time in the U.S. Army Reserves during 2001-2002. I write today to all U.S. Congressmen in my state about an issue I experienced along with all other soldiers, one that still persists to this day as I understand it and I know causes problems as I will outline in this letter.
It relates to a specific part of the Military Sexual Harassment Policy, a part given the slang name, “Clinton Military Sexual Harassment Policy,” due to which presidency it was created under. This part is taught once a year in a mandatory class completely verbally and soldiers new to the military experience shock when they hear it while those with longer careers are silently aggravated.
This part of the policy states that anytime a male soldier is accused by a female (any female, military or civilian) of either sexual harassment or rape, he has no choice but to admit to guilt even if there are witnesses and/or evidence to prove innocence, must avoid contact with the accused and has no right to representation by a lawyer. Also no police (military or civilian) are involved to do a proper investigation in what should be treated as a criminal matter to find the truth.
After this instruction, a Q&A session is held where soldiers can ask questions. In every meeting I ever attended from 1995-1999, I always noted the first question was always the same and asked by the same type of person, a late teens to early twenties male soldier usually new to service. The question, “I don’t understand. I am here serving in the United States military doing a job some people wouldn’t, one that involves putting my life at risk in a way some would not do, for our way of life. I was always told that this lifestyle was one where we (soldiers) did something above and beyond the call of duty and deserved to be treated with respect. But now you tell me that what civilians get, things like right to a lawyer and a fair chance to prove innocence, I don’t have in this situation, even if there is evidence or people who can prove my innocence. You are telling me to call myself a criminal at times when it is clear I am not. Why does this policy exist?” The answer they always get is, “I’m not sure, all any of us have been told is that, ‘somebody wanted to send a message because of what happened with the President (Clinton),’ but we are not sure what that is. This is the policy and we have no choice but to follow it.”
The second question that always gets asked is, “Who came up with this policy?” The answer given, “We don’t know.”
The third question that gets asked is, “What is the message sent by this other than we are not as respected as I thought we would be?” The answer given, “We don’t know.”
Not just male soldiers, some female soldiers have issues with this too both because women who serve usually (with a few exceptions) want to serve but this policy makes it look like they cannot without special needs (rules for pregnancy are an example of acceptable needs) and due to how this policy is not used for sexual harassment or rape situations as described following. Sometimes in the Q&A a woman will ask about how this helps them since it is too easy to make false accusations under this policy and distract from real harassment/rape cases, all anyone is told is, “We’re not sure, we just have to do this.”
As an example of this policy that I know about that shows part of what is wrong with it, approximately during my last six months in the Army, I worked at 16th Signal Battalion, 3rd Signal Brigade, Fort Hood, TX, as a driver for the Command Sergeant Major. Sometimes I was working in the area where the Battalion meetings were held involving the leadership from Battalion and all the Companies under it. At one of these meetings, it was mentioned that the motor pool sergeant of Alpha Company, 16th Signal Battalion, had committed suicide. This sergeant had recently been accused of sexual harassment by a female soldier serving in his motor pool so under the policy I described above, he was forced to admit to guilt and could not be within the vicinity of the female soldier. In addition, no proper investigation was done and upon hearing of the accusation, his wife had left him taking their children. Faced with admitting to the accusation, being unable to perform his duties since he had to avoid the female soldier and losing his family, this sergeant shot himself. After he died, someone who found out about his death came forward with proof the sergeant had been somewhere else at the time of the alleged harassment. The leadership went to the female soldier with this and she admitted the accusation was false in an attempt to get the sergeant to stop working her too hard in her opinion.
A life lost, a soldier’s reputation smeared, a family without their husband and father and disruption in the motor pool all because of a false accusation to lighten someone’s workload. I should mention after the meeting, I asked someone in 16th Signal Battalion leadership about this and was told it is not the only incident like it that happens in the military.
I normally don’t lecture or try to influence someone’s beliefs but this policy doesn’t help solve anything and needs to be replaced with something better, probably one that lets the military police handle these situations similar to how civilian police do. Currently this policy is solely used for personal gain, distracts from any efforts to deal with real harassment/rape cases, encourages morale and social problems and has cost too many lives through suicides. The suicide rate during the 1990s varied roughly from 10 to 15 per 100,000, in a military of 1,000,000 that was 100 to 150 per year before September 11, 2001, one half to three quarters what the wartime rate is now.
If you wish to look at the politics of this, it is known that this policy was created under a Democratic leadership (Clinton) and when a Republican one existed (Bush), the policy was never changed so it is not something that only one political party supports. Probably would be more accurate to say it is not influenced by political parties, instead as described it is some person’s or group’s reaction to things involving former President Clinton. It could be supporters of Clinton just as much as opponents because during the 1980s before this policy existed, I knew of civilians who were Clinton supporters that used a similar routine of false rape and/or sex harassment accusations as a way to accomplish personal goals, usually encouraged by a male as a method to get sex. Then it was called what it truly is, a scam that should not be supported or used as a way to solve problems. Only an investigation of some sort to find the person or group behind it could reveal the truth.
Finally, I can also see where this is similar to what Vietnam veterans had to deal with when called, “baby killers,” except this time soldiers are being called rapists and there was no war happening when this started in the 1990s.
I understand that in some ways soldiers have to live differently than civilians due to the nature of the work involved but this is wrong for the reasons I described. I hope you can find the time to get other Congressmen to look into this and find a better way of handling such cases so some of the lives lost and the pain for those left behind (family and friends) can be prevented. Thank you for your time and hopefully assistance in finding a solution to make things right.