Recently I had the opportunity to speak at Hastings Law School at their Symposium Fixing a Broken System: Rape and Sexual Assault in the Military. I shared with the audience my experiences as a woman who served in the Navy for 22 years. I also discussed some of the lessons learned in the successful repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell that are relevant to those looking to reform the U.S. militaryâ€™s culture, laws, regulations and justice system when it comes to military sexual trauma (MST).
I learned a lot at this symposium and the statistics are alarming. Women in the military are more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than killed by the enemy. In 2011, there were over 3,000 reports of sexual assaults in the military, ranging from wrongful touching to rape. Even Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he believes there were as many as 19,000 such attacks, but many went unreported.
This underreporting reflects how the majority of victims are too fearful to report the abuse, as many of the perpetrators are their superiors.
Prosecution rates within the military are incredibly low, as commanders have wide discretion on how to proceed. In 2011, less than 8% of reported cases went to trial. Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier currently has a bill before Congress that would reassign the reporting, investigation, prosecution, victim care and oversight of sexual assaults to a new autonomous council. I fully support Congresswoman Speierâ€™s efforts and hope this attention can lead to some meaningful changes in the military. These courageous women signed up to serve their country, not be the victims of sexual assault at the hands of their fellow servicemen.
On a more upbeat note, Iâ€™ve been excited to see the energy and enthusiasm building at the joint Democratic Party/Obama for America campaign headquarters at 2278 Market St. (the old Tower Records space). There was a grand kick-off event featuring Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and watch parties for the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates. We are approximately three weeks out from the election, and there are many critical local Supervisor races and some state and local propositions you will want to brush up on. Everything from funding for schools and local public safety (Prop 30) to funding for San Francisco parks (Prop B) to repealing the stateâ€™s death penalty (Prop 34) to the labeling of genetically modified foods (Prop 37) will be on the ballot. I highly encourage you to learn more â€“ the nonpartisan website http://www.smartvoter.org/ has lots of good information. Deadline to register to vote in California is October 22nd. You can register online at http://registertovote.org.
Finally, I want to express my personal disappointment in the recent Board of Supervisorâ€™s vote to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi as Sheriff of San Francisco. San Francisco has worked hard to become a leader in the protection of victims of domestic violence, and prosecution of those who abuse. I believe the integrity of our Sheriffâ€™s Department is compromised if its leader is guilty of the false imprisonment of his wife in the course of a domestic violence dispute. His reinstatement deals a blow to efforts to eliminate domestic violence from our city, and his actions - both the evening of December 31, 2011, and his conduct since â€“ have been below the standard we should uphold for our elected officials. As such, I will be introducing a resolution before the Democratic County Central Committee on October 24th asking for the Committeeâ€™s support of his recall. I believe the cityâ€™s voters should now decide whether this is the best person to serve as the head of one of our most important law enforcement agencies.
Thatâ€™s all I have for this monthâ€™s column. Until next time, take good care of yourself and each other.
Zoe Dunning is a retired Navy Commander and was a lead activist in the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell. She currently serves as the 1st Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and lives in Noe Valley with her wife, Pam, two cats and their golden retriever rescue â€“ how lesbian!