Though he is a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) isn’t recommending women sign up to be in the armed forces — at least not until the high rate of sexual assaults in the military is under control.
"Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not," McCain said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. In the hearing, officials discussed whether or not to deal with perpetrators of sexual assault crimes internally or in public courts.
"At its core, this is an issue about defending basic human rights but it's also a long-term threat to the strength of our military,” McCain said. “We have to ask ourselves: if left uncorrected, what impact will this problem have on recruitment and retention of qualified men and women?"
McCain, a seasoned politician, is one of many voices calling for a policy overhaul when it comes to dealing with sexual assault crimes. His comments come just weeks after the Pentagon released its annual report on such attacks within the military, estimating that a staggering 26,000 service members were victims of sexual assault in 2012.
"I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military. We’ve been talking about this issue for years and talk is insufficient,” McCain said.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that though the statistics are discouraging, punishment should still remain within the chain of command.
"The role of the commander should remain central. Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable not render them less able to help us correct the crisis," Dempsey said. "The commanders' responsibility to preserve order and discipline is essential to effecting change.”
Another issue the Pentagon will address is the internal distinction of sexual assault severity. Currently, a suggestive glance and brutal rape all are reported under “sexual assaults,” so the number of rapes and brutal crimes is unclear because they are pooled in the broader category.