(Mankato Free Press)
After joining the Marines in 2004, Kim Wellnitz was sexually assaulted by a corporal. Her attacker was given a light punishment of a reduction in rank and pay and the report was never provided to civilian authorities.
After the man left the service, he worked in a school for troubled youth where he allegedly sexually assaulted two teenagers. Police and school officials say they had no way of knowing he was accused of rape in the military.
Legislation being sponsored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar would help bring justice and treatment for soldiers who are assaulted and help protect others from perpetrators.
The military has a patchwork of procedures for documenting and keeping records of sexual assault, with some branches routinely destroying reports after a year.
That not only prevents traumatized victims from later seeking justice, it can also prevent them from receiving help from Veterans Affairs they may need to deal with the psychological trauma of assault.
As more women join the military, the reports of assault increase. In 2008, 21 percent of women tested by the military were found to have what is known as Military Sexual Trauma.
Klobuchar’s bill would require a unified method of record-keeping by all branches of the military and would ensure lifetime access to the information by any victim. That’s important, not only for those who wish to file charges later on, but for victims who seek disability benefits.
The legislation also calls for more research of sexual trauma suffered by military personnel. Society and the military have come to better recognize Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in veterans. Likewise, they need to better understand trauma brought on by sexual assault in the military.
The law would add little cost as the records would be kept digitally.
It’s a long overdue piece of legislation that deserves support. Those who volunteer for military service deserve protection from assault, and justice and treatment if they become victims.