Member of Congress Jackie Speier continues her rage against the Uniform Code of Military Justice. First, about a year (perhaps more) ago, she ranted in OpEd columns about the “statistics” that show that damn-near every male in the military is a rapist (OK, OK, a bit of hyperbole on my part, but not much). While I’m completely against any type of sexual assault, I am equally opposed to cooked, incomplete, and questionable statistics that favor the axe one wishes to grind.
Now, she looks to add wayward Drill Sergeants to the rolls of sexual predators. Her proposed law seeks to add the following crime to UCMJ Article 120:
1. ENHANCED SEXUAL ASSAULT PROHIBITION.–A military instructor who commits a sexual act upon a member of the armed forces while the member is undergoing basic training (or its equivalent) or within 30 days after completing such training–
A. is guilty of sexual assault if the military instructor exercised any supervisory authority over the member during such training; and
B. Shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
2. ENHANCED ABUSIVE SEXUAL CONTACT PROHIBITION.–A military instructor who commits or causes sexual contact upon or by a member of the armed forces while the member is undergoing basic training (or its equivalent) or within 30 days after completing such training–
A. Is guilty of abusive sexual contact if the military instructor exercised any supervisory authority over the member during such training; and
B. Shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
There you go. Label them as sexual predators. No mens rea (state of mind) required. That can’t possibly go wrong.
All branches of the military already have regulations (punitive) that address personal relationships with trainees. It extends to sexual relationships which are, regularly, adjudicated at court-martial. At Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for example, trainees are off-limits to any post-training members located at the installation. Violation of this rule is punishable by possible incarceration and a punitive discharge. So, to grade the current mechanism for dealing with any personal relationship with trainees (Pass/Fail):
- Possible criminal conviction: Pass.
- Possible Incarceration: Pass
- Possible end to military career: Pass
- Possible stigma of a punitive discharge (in addition to the stigma of a conviction): Pass
Clearly, this check sheet is incomplete and insufficient to Ms. Speier. She sees the following:
- Possible Sexual Predator Status: Fail (which can be remedied by her shiny, new law)
I see what infuriates her. Trainees are subjected to a highly coercive environment. It is a radical change of lifestyle with clear distinctions between leaders and subordinates, and the trainees rely upon drill sergeants/instructors to lead them through the process in a tough-love way. The position of power occupied by instructors can be abused, and abused badly.
However, we are talking about consensual encounters (if it were not consensual for any reason, there are laws that already apply) between two (or more) military-age adults. Granted, the relationship is considered to be wrong. That’s why there are already punitive procedures available to commanders, with serious, life-altering potential consequences.
So, will Ms. Speier next address college professors? Coaches? Run-of-the-mill fraternization in the military? Law enforcement hooking-up with members of the community they control? High-level civil servants? Corporate executives? All of these individuals possess the potential of creating a highly coercive environment. Sure, there are no scary camo uniforms, but they are all environments where an individual can be caused to feel incalculably subordinate and necessarily obedient.
Returning to the task-at-hand, there is really one question to be asked: What do we stand to gain by creating laws that label bad military instructors as sexual predators? Was there a horrible crime committed by a former Drill Sergeant, convicted previously of having an inappropriate relationship with a trainee? Was his later crime directly related to the mental state exhibited by having sex with a trainee? Did officials determine that, had he only been a registered offender for his military misconduct, we could’ve prevented the later crime? Is there an epidemic of this? Is there even a single example. If this is the case, it didn’t show-up on my Google search.
So, knowing that there is no Googleable proof to show that had-sex-with-trainee former Drill Sergeants cause a clear threat to society, there must a simpler reason for this law. Here’s the list I devised:
- It furthers Ms. Speier’s agenda and continues her status as tough on military crimes (primarily against women).
- It is clearly “Tough on Crime.” That is, after all, a necessary label to wear if one wants to become/remain an elected official.
- In addition to the other potential stigmas associated with court-martial conviction and punitive discharges, it adds wayward Drill Sergeants to our ever-expanding definition of sexual predators, regardless of intent or consent. Because the vast majority are hairy, nasty men, and nothing good ever comes from their ilk.
In today’s society, we call that fair, just, and part of the game of life we play. Well, unless it effects someone we know and love. Then it’s unreasonable.
I’ve already received several emails on Ms. Speier. Let me state a few things:
1. I realize her role in Jonestown and how she came to ascend to her seat in Congress.
2. I have great respect for what she endured in the face of a horrible, tragic situation. I have no idea what it is like to take one bullet, let alone a few. I have no idea what it is like to lay injured, mentor killed, wondering if I’d live to see another day. I bow to her ability to endure and overcome.
3. I have great respect for the many great things she has done for the nation and her constituency.
4. That being said, no history of heroism, overcoming adversity, or good acts gives someone the authority or license to make bad laws that have the potential of irreparably, unnecessarily, and excessively harming another person.
5. Her proposed law, to quote Shaquille O’Neil is “horrible and awful…….It’s hor-awful.” It is overreaching and excessive and has no place in the UCMJ.