Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sex assault case never had a chance

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Did anyone believe for a moment an army brigadier general was going to go to prison and lose his considerable pension for abusing a subordinate who was his longtime mistress? Or for misusing his government-issued credit card to facilitate the affair?

Don't be naive.

Even before the military prosecutors' case against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair began to crumble, even before the lead prosecutor stepped down from the case amid doubts the victim, a captain, had lied about certain aspects of the relationship, it seemed pretty clear no military court, even in a time of heightened political sensitivity about the military's handling of sex crimes, would put a senior commanding officer behind bars for assaulting a woman with whom he'd had an affair.

We're talking about a culture where commanding officers overturn actual rape convictions because they feel like it.

We're talking about a culture so sexist it routinely punishes victims of sex crimes rather than the perpetrators.

We're talking about a culture so wrongly invested in the idea it can police itself that common-sense proposals such as taking sex-crime investigations out of the chain of command and putting them into the hands of military lawyers are seen as undermining the very soul of the military. (And a male-dominated U.S. Congress that agrees.)

So what charges did the army dismiss?

Sinclair was originally accused of sexual assault, threatening to kill his accuser and her family, forcing her to perform oral sex and engaging in "open and notorious sex" in a parked car and on a hotel balcony.

And what were the charges that stuck? According to my colleague David Zucchino, Sinclair pleaded guilty to adultery, mistreating the captain, misusing his government charge card in order to pursue the affair, disobeying an order not to contact the captain, making sexist comments about other female officers, impeding an investigation by deleting sexually explicit emails to and from a civilian woman, possessing pornography in a war zone, conducting inappropriate relationships with two other female officers and improperly asking a female lieutenant for a date.

How does an officer who has done all that receive only a reprimand and a $20,000 fine?

That's a question our military leaders and their congressional overseers should be asking themselves.

This is a sad day for justice.

But it's a tragic day for the women of the U.S. military, who, as we all know, are far more likely to be abused by peers and superiors than by any official enemy.

Robin Abcarian is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 A17

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