When former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta estimated the number of unreported sexual assaults in the U.S. military to be about 19,000, it put in clear focus how prevalent the problem truly is.

You see, in 2011, only 489 court-martial proceedings were carried out among those accused of the crime. Only 2.5 percent of the sexual assault and rape cases in the military resulted in a defined outcome that required testimony from those involved. Shameful.

As the U.S. Senate conducts hearings on military justice and the prevalence of sexual assault, details are emerging that should cause even the most ardent supporter of those in uniform to shudder.

In one case, a military jury found an officer guilty of sexually assaulting a co-worker; however, the presiding officer dismissed the charges without explanation, allowing the perpetrator to go free. In other testimony, victims talked about how merely reporting a case of sexual assault was enough to derail a career, no matter how decorated the soldier had been.

As the U.S. military acknowledges that women have been serving in the line of fire and thus should be allowed to have combat roles within much of the branches, it also is becoming apparent that those women will have to be mindful not only of the enemy but of the sexual predator who may be serving with them.

To stem the tide of sexual abuse in the military, Congress and the president must make it easier to file a complaint without threat of retribution and for those complaints to be investigated. Those falsely accused should feel safe in knowing their careers won’t be ruined. And those who have been getting away with abusing their colleagues in service to the country should see the jail time they deserve.

— Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald, Colorado, March 21

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