Advocates for sexual assault prevention in the military got some major wins last year with legislation taking sex crimes out of the direct chain of command and extra funds for response measures. However, a new campaign backed by some prominent groups are still pushing the Defense Department and Congress to go farther in how it protects service members from harassment, assault, retaliation, domestic violence and other issues.
The #RedWhiteandBruised campaign is encouraging service members to share their stories on social media of how the military leaders failed to go after alleged assailants and the effects it had on them.
“We’re launching this campaign to really to bring awareness to this issue and mobilize our service member and our veterans to make sure that they know that their voice is heard, get them to speak up, stand up, speak out, reach out to the congressional leaders,” said Lindsey Knapp, executive director of Combat Sexual Assault. “We are the minority and the majority is holding the power, in sweeping sexual assault under the rug not holding their senior leaders accountable when they do that. Until we can get enough support and get enough attention on this issue, we’re just not going to make any progress.”
The campaign has a list of seven demands, the first of which calls for Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville and Army Forces Command chief Gen. Michael Garrett to resign for “willfully failing to ensure proper investigations into sexual and domestic violence.”
Other demands include opening an investigation into Ft. Bragg, Army Forces Command, Army Reserve Command, Army Africa and the National Guard Bureau to look into incidents of retaliation and ignorance of sex crimes.
The campaign wants the Pentagon to create a policy barring the employment of anyone who has been credibly accused of domestic violence, child abuse or sexual assault crimes and it wants to charge people with obstruction of justice for interfering with assault and abuse reporting.
The demands also include full passage of the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention bill. That legislation was originally in the 2022 Defense Authorization Act, but was watered down in conference.
It originally would have taken all nonmilitary crimes out of the chain of command and not just sex crimes. Keeping crimes in the chain of command gives commanders discretion on what to prosecute instead of legal experts.
“How can the military police itself? What we’re saying is that they can’t. There are no checks and balances, there’s no accountability mechanism,” said Amy Braley-Franck, founder of Never Alone Advocacy. “Until we rally the troops and make the public aware of it, they’re just going to continue to operate under this veil of accountability.”
The #RedWhiteandBruised campaign is already garnering attention on social media. Service members are sharing their stories by video, Twitter threads and other means.
“The retaliation got so severe that I ended up having a mental health crisis. When it got to that point, I was like, okay, this is rock bottom. This is the worst it’s gonna get.” A #RedWhiteAndBruised Air Force vet shares her story of military assault and retaliation: pic.twitter.com/S1qxTTsaga
The recommendations range from changing how assaults and harassment are prosecuted to taking better account of data through climate surveys.
“Our recommendations are really designed as a comprehensive and complimentary package to one another, these are not designed to be one standalone recommendation and forget the other ones,” Kayla Williams, one of the commissioners, said in 2021. “There’s a lot more meat on the bones than just changing the legal structure.”
However, lawmakers are concerned DoD isn’t working fast enough.
Eight lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last fall with concerns that DoD’s plan will take too long to implement.
“We write to express our disappointment and concern with the vague approach and lax timeline the Department of Defense has laid out,” the senators wrote. “This approach does not rise to the challenge of addressing the crippling and endemic sexual assault crisis afflicting our nation’s military. Instead, the memo lays out four tiers of priorities with a deadline of 2027 at the earliest, and 2030 at the latest.”