Civilian, Troop Sex Assault Allegations May Spur Legislation

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April 19, 2008 Congress shows concern for how cases are handled
By Jessica Wehrman and Rebecca Carr, Cox News Service
WASHINGTON — A handful of high-profile rape cases is spurring Congress to examine whether the government is adequately protecting military service members and contractors who allege sexual assault.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, is researching how best to respond to a list of 29 answers that the Marine Corps gave him regarding the murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach.
The 20-year-old Ohioan was discovered on Jan. 11 buried beneath a fire pit in fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean's backyard near Camp Lejeune. Laurean has been charged with her murder.
Lauterbach, eight months pregnant at the time of her death, had told military officers that Laurean raped her in April 2007, prompting lawmakers to question whether the Marines did enough to prevent her murder.
Turner is concerned that the Marines' reaction to her rape accusation lacked urgency, and said they twice let Lauterbach's military protective order — the military equivalent of a restraining order — expire.
"There is a belief that the culture in the military does not adequately protect women or take this issue seriously," he said.
Marine Staff director Lt. Gen. R.S. Kramlich wrote in a letter to Turner on March 31, "The command has consistently acted to preserve and protect the rights of both Marines, taking appropriate steps to investigate fully serious allegations of rape." From the beginning, it said, the command has "acted to ensure both the victim and the accused are treated in full accordance with their rights and protections under the law."
Turner is not the only lawmaker concerned about the way that violent crime victims — both in the service and civilians — are being treated in Iraq, Afghanistan and on military bases at home.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel headed by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., recently held a hearing on closing loopholes for prosecuting crimes committed by Americans in combat operations.
A case prompting the hearing was that of Jamie Leigh Jones, a 22-year-old Texan, who alleges she was drugged and gang raped by fellow contract workers while working for defense contractor Halliburton/KBR at Camp Hope in Baghdad.
After the alleged assault took place in July 2005, Jones was "held against her will in a storage container," Nelson said. "And yet her assailant remains free."
There are some 180,000 contractors working in Iraq alongside the military. Though the Defense Department has a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for members of the armed services, representatives of that office told Nelson that they do not know what procedures the military criminal investigative services would follow if they encountered a civilian sexual assault or harassment case, other than referring the victim for medical treatment.
"We have got to figure out the right way to see to it that these women can have their day in court," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations panel. "If they were abused and, certainly, if they were raped, then the consequences are born by the person who committed the crime."
Isakson said he is working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former military judge advocate general, and others to develop legislation that would help victims of violent crime in combat zones like Iraq. The initial idea would be to create a provision in the law that would state that when there is no other court of jurisdiction, then the uniform code of military justice would apply, he said.
"I don't think there is any question but that Congress is going to intervene on both of these cases to make sure there is an adequate remedy in the future," Isakson said.
The Lauterbach case is different from the Jones case because the victim is in the military — so the uniform code of military justice does apply — and the crime took place in North Carolina rather than in Iraq.
But the evidence is growing that the problem of rape in the theater of war is not being addressed.
There were 2,947 reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2006, up 24 percent over 2005, according to the Department of Defense.