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Military Should Move Sexual Assault Cases Out of Chain of Command, Writes Former Service Member in Op-Ed

Military Should Move Sexual Assault Cases Out of Chain of Command, Writes Former Service Member in Op-Ed

November 14, 2013 — In a Politico opinion piece, military sexual assault survivor Trina McDonald urges lawmakers to pass legislation that would move "the decision to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors with the exception of crimes that are uniquely military in nature."

"More than half a million members of our military have been sexually assaulted in the 25 years since I was attacked," according to McDonald, who served in the Navy from 1988 to 1990 and launched an online petition calling for the legislation.

She argues that the measure -- introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- would "reduce the power of intimidation and retaliation that silences survivors like" herself.

McDonald, who enlisted in the Navy at age 17, describes how she was "repeatedly drugged and raped by several of [her] superior officers over a nine-month period" while stationed at a remote base in Adak, Alaska. She noted that her attackers -- who were in her chain of command -- "made it very clear that they would kill [her] if [she] ever spoke up or reported what they had done."

After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, "drug addiction, homelessness and thoughts of suicide," McDonald two decades later was "finally able to get control over [her] life and find the courage to break the silence," she writes. In hopes of helping the "thousands of other servicemen and women" with similar stories, she launched the petition, which garnered the support of more than 115,000 people in four weeks, she explains.

McDonald continues, "[M]ilitary chiefs of staff have continued to insist that this problem can be addressed within the chain of command," but her "experiences offer evidence to the contrary: If the perpetrators are part of the chain of command, then the chain of command can't possibly guarantee justice or protection."

"Military leaders, Congress and the country owe us all the opportunity to seek justice without fear of reprisal or retaliation from commanding officers," she writes (McDonald, Politico, 11/12).