HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The United States military court system is being scrutinized in Washington DC and a Hawaii case was used as an example of what critics say is wrong.
The Department of Defense estimates there are 19,000 sexual assaults in the military each year, yet only 3,000 are reported and a few hundred go to trial. Some Senators including one of our own here in Hawaii want the process reviewed.
A Senate Armed Services Subcommittee hearing became explosive when talking about sexual assaults in the military with women testifying about their experience while enlisted.
"That same year, I was raped again by another soldier in my unit," said BriGette McCoy, former Specialist, United States Army.
"An Army Chaplain who told me, among other things, that the rape was God's will," said Rebekah Havrilla, former Sergeant, United States Army.
A case involving Hawaii based officer Jeremy Goulet was used as another example. He was accused of two separate rape cases while on Oahu but struck a deal and was discharged.
Last month police say he shot and killed two officers in Santa Cruz, California who were investigating him for another assault.
"I would say it's a system that needs to be fixed," said Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D) Hawaii, who was on the Armed Services Subcommittee. "I think there is a culture in the military that makes it really hard for people that have been the victim of sexual assault to come forward and report it."
Senator Hirono says because of the broken system of enforcement assault victims "are often unable to bring their perpetrators to justice and instead face humiliation and blame."
Another problem is the chain of command because a commanding officer can overturn a jury's conviction and punishment, similar to a pardon, even though they are not trained in law.
"No one person, the commanding officer or the convening officer as they are referred to, should be able to unilaterally change the outcome," said Sen. Hirono. "This is not an easy situation. It's complicated we know. I think one of the reasons it's difficult is because of the chain of command decision making that is holding sway here."
There are also complaints about consistency saying officers and non-officers are not treated equally.
"Yes they're treated differently. I mean you hate to think of it that way. You think that everyone is treated the same," said Noel Tipon. "They're treated differently for a number of respects, number one officers are entrusted with a special trust and confidence. They have a greater responsibility. They have a greater power. I think that cases involving officers are given more scrutiny not less. They're given more scrutiny."
Tipon points out that rape cases often aren't reported for many reasons and are difficult to prove. But he does say the military culture needs to change.
"That's the million dollar question. How do you change the culture? You have to make the victim feel safe in her reporting. You have to make her feel like something bad isn't going to happen to her," said Tipon.
Which shouldn't be as difficult as it is considering the military's duty to protect.
"The military does have to be more consistent and consistent does not mean we prosecute everybody. Consistent means we take a look at the facts. We have an independent person, independent committee, whatever the case may be, some sort of screening. Take a look at the facts, take a look at the case, and then make a determination. And that's what consistency should be," said Tipon.
"The challenge is partially changing the culture within the military of how women are viewed and until leadership is held accountable for the actions of some of their subordinates, when leadership is allowed to push those things under the rug, when leadership is never made to stand for the actions of others that they could have hands down could have easily said this is unacceptable behavior, it will stop," said Havrilla, during Senate testimony.
There is a Senate bill that would take away the power of the commanding officer to change a jury or judge's decision after a guilty verdict.