Understanding sexual assault cases in the U.S. military

Allegations of sexual assault are a serious matter, which may have lasting implications on service members’ personal lives and military careers.

In 2016 alone, there were 6,172 sexual assault cases reported by members of the United States military, NBC News reports. Even if the accusations are untrue, being alleged to have committed this type of sexual misconduct may affect service members' personal and professional lives, as well as make them subject to significant penalties. Having an understanding of sexual assault cases in the military may help personnel in New Jersey and elsewhere to protect themselves and their rights.

What is sexual assault?

Under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, sexual assault is defined as sex acts committed against others using threats, fear, fraudulent representations, concealment or by causing bodily harm. Further, engaging in sexual acts with people who are unconscious, asleep or otherwise unaware the encounter is happening may also be considered sexual assault. Service members may also be charged under Article 120 if they commit sex acts with people who cannot consent due to intoxication, drug impairment, disability, or mental disease or defect.

How are service members prosecuted?

Unlike civilians who are charged with sexual assault, military personnel who are alleged to have perpetrated this type of improper conduct may be subject to a general court-martial. A military court proceeding, this hearing consists of a court-martial panel of at least five other service members and a military judge. As is the case with civilian criminal trials, there is also a prosecutor, or the trial counsel, and defense counsel. During court-martial proceedings, the judge and panel may hear testimony and review evidence in order to make their determination of innocence or guilt.

What are the penalties for sexual assault?

If military personnel plead or are found guilty during a court-martial, they may be subject to administrative and criminal penalties. These may include being dismissed from the service and receiving a dishonorable discharge, being made to forfeit all or a portion of their pay, and being sentenced to confinement in a military prison for a maximum of 30 years. Service members may also be required to register as sex offenders.

Obtaining legal assistance

Sexual assault allegations may profoundly affect the lives and careers of military personnel in New Jersey and elsewhere. Due to the seriousness of such charges, those alleged to have committed this type of sexual misconduct may benefit from working with a lawyer. An attorney may help ensure their rights are upheld and aid them in building a solid defense and limiting the potential fallout from the charges against them.