Virginia lawmakers say they’re united in their attempts to combat sexual harassment in the military.
The U-S military has rapidly evolved in recent years. Gays and lesbians can now serve openly. And women can now officially do what they've been doing unofficially for years: join men on the battlefield.
But recent reports of a culture of sexual harassment are highlighting what may be a byproduct of that quick transition, according to Northern Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly.
“We’re still in a transition…with respect to gender integration and gender hierarchy within that integration. And obviously that’s still a work in progress.”
Last week lawmakers were outraged to learn of the arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski in Arlington County, Virginia for groping a woman. Before his arrest he was in charge of Air Force sexual assault prevention programs.
Virginia Republican Rob Wittman says Krusinski’s arrest raises all sorts of red flags. “They have to be aggressive in addressing this. The recent developments here with the Air Force are very troubling. I think they need to redouble their efforts to understand what the scope of the issue is and to make sure that they’re out there addressing it," he said.
Krusinski’s arrest isn’t the only news that’s troubling lawmakers. The Pentagon is reporting that there were more than 70 sexual assaults a day in the military last year, which has officials worried there remains a culture of abuse in the military. That complicates the response from Congress, but Northern Virginia Democrat Jim Moran says it’s still not impossible for lawmakers to address a cultural problem.
“We legislate cultural issues all the time. Civil rights was culturally oriented. This country needs to advance and become more inclusive and respectful of each other," he said.
Moran says it’s a shame that the military is evolving at a slower pace than society at large. “Now the military is kind of the last holdout and some of these knuckleheads that think that women are there for their pleasure need to be dealt with severely.”
Some lawmakers want to provide more lawyers to sexual assault victims while others want to remove sexual cases from the ordinary chain of command.
The glaring problem of sexual harassment in the military has brought about some rare bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill. Whether lawmakers can translate that into legislation that can curb the problem remains to be seen.