Military Increases Prosecution of Officers for Sexual Misconduct

Conduct that may have been ignored at one time now is leading to career ending prosecutions of high-ranking officers

Sexual misconduct and harassment is a problem that is being taken very seriously by the U.S. military. At one time, high-ranking officers may have been given a pass when accused of such conduct, perhaps receiving some form of opaque discipline; a reassignment, a new post or base, a sooner-than-expected retirement, with little notice or explanation.

In recent years, this practice seems to be changing, with much more aggressive prosecution of these cases. The highest profile case is probably that of retired General Petraeus, who went on to become director of the CIA, but was then prosecuted by the Department of Justice for mishandling classified material. The military, however, has declined prosecution under the code of military justice for violations that occurred while he was in the Army.

"Indiscretions" no longer ignored

The civilian prosecution of General Petraeus is not the only incident of high-ranking officers being prosecuted. Four colonels have been subject to courts-martial and one Navy captain has been disciplined in an administrative proceeding.

The Washington Post reports that overall, prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military have increased 62 percent in the last four years, due to pressure from Congress and the President. While 94 percent of cases involve enlisted personnel, the recent increase in punishment of officers is notable.

"Cringe worthy"

The news report describes one case involving a Navy captain. During a disciplinary hearing, he was found guilty of abusive sexual contact and sexual harassment. The captain become drunk at a pub and made crude and aggressive advances on a female officer whose career he could control. He essentially demanded sex for his approval of an important training assignment for the woman.

He ordered the female officer to his quarters the next day and again tried to pressure her into sex. Other officers from his ship intervened. Ironically, during the investigation, he complained that it was their fault that they did not stop his drinking sooner. His discipline could include discharge from the Navy.

Other cases have involved an Army colonel who was charged with abusive sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl among other charges. The Army also court-martialed a brigadier General on charges of forcible sodomy, adultery and other offenses, which the Post notes as being only the third general prosecuted in the last 60 years.

Serious prosecutions

These recent cases are a reflection of how serious incidents involving sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by senior officers is being taken by the Department of Defense. Some have argued that the military is too reticent in prosecuting wrongdoing because of the chain of command and that this can make many junior officers unwilling to risk their careers by reporting cases of sexual misconduct.

There has been raised the possibility of removing decisions regarding prosecution from commanding officers and placing exclusive discretion among military prosecutors, although many within the service would strongly object to this change.

For anyone within the military, enlisted or officer, it is clear incidents of sexual conduct are likely to be treated as very serious matters and could lead to career-ending discipline, a court-martial and discharge from the service.

Nonetheless, sexual relations between men and women, even if they are high-ranking officers can be very complex as the case of General Petraeus demonstrates. If you have been implicated in any investigation involving matters of sexual indiscretion or misconduct, it is important to recognize the severity of your predicament early in the process and seek legal advice and counsel.