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Commanders ‘Essential’ to Fight Against Sex Assault

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Miss. National Guard
Monday, April 22, 2019

Removing commanders from the military justice process could exacerbate the problem of sexual assault and harassment in the ranks, the Army’s former top lawyer recently told Congress.

“A commander, like a parent, is responsible for everything regarding their soldiers. Commanders must ensure that their soldiers are fed, clothed and housed, just like a parent,” said retired Lt. Gen. Flora Darpino, who was the 39th judge advocate general of the Army until 2017. “They are responsible for their soldiers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, just like a parent. And like a parent, they are responsible to hold their soldiers accountable when they do not follow the rules.”

Darpino called on lawmakers not to remove commanders from the decision-making process when it comes to handling and responding to sexual assault or harassment cases, saying commanders “are not the cause, but they are essential to the solution.”

Several members of Congress and advocates have called for commanders to be removed from deciding whether a case should be prosecuted, with some survivors of sexual assault testifying during the same hearing that their commanders were unprepared to properly handle their cases.

Darpino argued that good order and discipline and “the ability to hold someone accountable” are “inextricably intertwined.”

Military lawyers are already fully involved in the process, Darpino said, cautioning that “it is often tempting to try to find a nonexistent quick fix to a complicated problem.”

“When you walk into a unit, the first thing you see is a line of pictures, and the soldiers know that that represents the chain of command and the chain of authority,” Darpino said. “Orders run down that chain, and enforcement of discipline comes from that chain. No commander should have to go next door to ask a staff officer if they may discipline their soldier.”