The Flawed Military Justice System

One of the biggest, if not THE biggest, issue with military sexual assault that enforces rape culture is the “command-centric” military legal system. This is a “legal system” specific to the military, in which “commanders and not lawyers [have] the authority to prosecute and manage the criminal courts system” (“Military Sexual Violence”). Thus commanders who are obviously not neutral or unbiased when it comes to their soldiers are the ones put in charge of handling sexual assault cases. The belief is that if a sexual assault or sexual harassment allegation is discovered in the group under the commander’s control, it will reflect badly on the commander. Thus, based on their reasoning, it is easier and safer for the commander to brush it under the rug to avoid conflict and having their reputation “harmed.”

Similarly, commanders are never trained on how to handle cases like these. Victims are accused of lying, of playing games, accused of drinking too much, told that the people were just playing around, or that they have to provide proof of what happened. One women in the documentary, The Invisible War, said “rape cases are always given to men [ie. male commanders]” because they believe female commanders will be “too sympathetic.”


Additionally, when victims’ cases are dropped, they are unable to take other action as “service members are prevented from [bringing] lawsuits against members of the military who either perpetrated these crimes against them or may have mishandled their cases” (“Military Sexual Violence”). Last year on March 6, 2014, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand presented to the Senate a measure that “would have removed commanders’ authority to make prosecutorial decisions and vested it in impartial military prosecutors instead” (The Editorial Board). However, despite receiving 55 out of 60 votes, it “still [was] five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster” (The Editorial Board). Thus, there are still serious strides to be made for increasing the justice, efficiency, and integrity of the military legal system.

As Senator Gillibrand says, “’We need an objective, trained prosecutor making these decisions about whether a case should go forward, not politics, not the discretion of a senior officer or a commander who may like the perpetrator or might like the victim, who may value the perpetrator more than the victim’” (“The Editorial Board”).

It is because of this unjust and flawed system in which the commanders are not held accountable, that many women and men’s cases are dismissed and dropped. As a result, the message either  directly or indirectly is that “Your story doesn’t matter,” “You are lying,” “It’s not that bad, just suck it up,” “You’re just doing this for attention,” thus the victims not only lack validation of their experiences, but that kind of dismissal has detrimental psychological repercussions.
Thus, this type of rape culture is rampant within all branches of the military and reflects a number of issues feminist theory addresses such as problems with victim-blaming, hearing and validating women’s stories and voices, taking rape allegations seriously, and so on. Overall, we have a long way to go to in bringing justice to our service women and men.

Hannah Mapes


“Military Sexual Violence.” Service Women’s Action Network, n.d. Web. <;.

The Invisible War. Dir. Kirby Dick. Perf. Amy Zeiring, Kirby Dick, Kori Cioca, Jessica Hinves. Docuramafilms and Cinedigm Entertainment Group, 2012. Film.

The Editorial Board. “A Broken Military Justice System.” The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. < system.html>.

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