Military able to dole out justice, including sex-assault cases, female admiral, a Greensburg native, says
Some things don't translate well between military and civilian cultures, and criminal justice is one of them — even when the crime is sexual assault, Rear Adm. Cindy Jaynes said on Thursday.
Military and civilian policymakers are struggling to reform the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults in the armed forces. A Pentagon report estimated 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.
A Senate bill by Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would move prosecution outside the accuser's chain of command, a response to victims who told Congress their superior officers scuttled or ignored their complaints.
But Jaynes, a Greensburg native and the first woman in the Naval Air Systems Command to achieve the rank of admiral, said the problem should be solved within the military's existing system.
“You don't want to make a decision based on one or two cases, and I think people are responding to what they've heard in the press,” Jaynes said in an interview after touring the USS Requin at the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore. “Individuals who are prosecuted for sexual assault are punished through the military justice system.”
Just 1 percent of the estimated 26,000 cases were prosecuted, said Bethany Lesser, Gillibrand's spokeswoman.
“Comments like these illustrate why the military has failed to solve this problem for over 20 years,” Lesser said.
Sexual assault victims “have been let down by a system that is not working under any metric. It is time for Congress to seize the opportunity, listen to the victims and create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice system worthy of our brave men and women's service,” Lesser said.
The Pentagon, which opposes Gillibrand's bill but is under increasing pressure to act, announced new rules on sexual assaults on Thursday, which include assigning legal representatives to all sexual-assault victims and allowing them to make statements during sentencing of convicted offenders.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, said he's “still evaluating” competing reform proposals.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, cosponsored Gillibrand's bill.
“Sen. Casey ... believes the reports about what's occurred are deeply troubling and should spark substantial reforms to protect service members from sexual assault,” Casey spokesman John Rizzo said.
The military's chain of command can handle that if military leaders do their jobs, Jaynes said.
“We have to be out there. We have to ensure that our entire chain of command understands there's an open policy to come forward,” Jaynes said.
“The individuals who work for me, they understand what their responsibility is to their sailors, and that's really how we're going to have to enforce it — just as we do with every other crime that occurs within the ranks.”
Jaynes oversees billions in aviation procurement projects — areas hit hard by the mandatory spending cuts resulting from Congress' failure to reach a deficit reduction deal in 2012. Thousands of civilian workers lost about 20 percent of their pay, part of an estimated $3.5 billion in cuts in the Naval Air Systems Command.
The decisions that military leaders make this year will ripple through the country's Defense capabilities, she said.
“You're not going to see the impacts of the decisions we make until three, four, five years from now,” Jaynes said.
Staff writer Salena Zito contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.