Bianca Cruz’s Navy career started with a job she loved on a ship in Japan, but after she was sexually assaulted by a sailor, her military life spiraled downward, ending with a “bad paper” discharge after serving 20 months. “If it weren’t for the sexual assault, I would still be in Japan,” said Cruz, 22, a Navy hospital corpsman, who returned home in November 2015. Cruz is among the thousands of sexual assault victims who have been pushed out of the military with a less than honorable discharge, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in May, Booted: Lack of Recourse for Wrongfully Discharged US Military Rape Survivors. The Navy diagnosed Cruz with a “personality disorder,” which the Rights Watch report said the military regularly uses to trigger quick dismissals of sexual assault victims.
Cruz is appealing to the Navy Discharge Review Board, requesting that her discharge status be upgraded from general (under honorable conditions) to honorable. Her current discharge status prevents her from receiving G.I. education benefits and re-enlisting in the military.
The Pentagon is not doing enough to make its sexual assault prevention strategy effective, according to a Congressional watchdog agency. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Department of Defense (DOD) has failed to: identify risk factors that “promote sexual violence” in the military community and in military leadership; communicate the strategy to military bases to ensure consistency among Armed Services prevention programs; and undertake methods to measure if the strategy is working and whether changes are needed. The report to Congress notes that sexual assaults reported to the military increased from 2,800 in 2007 to 6,100 in 2014, but adds that they represent “a fraction” of actual incidents. The report cites a 2014 RAND survey, which estimated that 20,300 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in the prior year. The report concludes that the DOD needs to take actions to better address the problem.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and two colleagues have asked the Obama administration to change the military’s pre-trial process in sexual assault cases, saying it allows victims to be questioned in an “intimidating and degrading” manner, resulting in “a major chilling effect on sexual assault reporting.”
Blumenthal, a Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), wrote to President Barack Obama, in the wake of pre-trial hearings in a case where three former U.S.Naval Academy football players are accused of sexually assaulting a female academy midshipman. In the hearings, the woman was cross- examined for some 30 hours about such topics as her sexual practices and her underwear. The three lawmakers wrote in their letter that they were “shocked and alarmed” to learn that such questions are allowed in the process, formally called Article 32 in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Citing legal experts, they said the questioning would not be permitted in any civilian court and constitutes “unabashed abuse.” They asked the Obama administration to immediately change the system to conform to Federal Court procedures. Article 32 is used to determine if there is probable cause for a case to go a court-martial trial. It differs from a civilian procedure such as a Federal Grand Jury in a number of ways, including that it is public, permits the defendant to be present, and allows extensive questioning of the accuser by the defense attorney. A Grand Jury is conducted in closed session and with participation restricted to presentation of evidence by the prosecution.