Obama Urged to Add Sex Assault Protections at Military Academies

April 28, 2015

The Service Women's Action Network sent a proposed executive order to the White House Monday, urging President Obama to create protections against gender discrimination at the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy and the Military Academy at West Point. Unlike other higher education institutions, military service academics are exempt from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which -- among other protections -- mandates that colleges quickly and competently investigate and adjudicate claims of sexual assault. The proposed executive action would explicitly bar gender and sex discrimination and empower the U.S. Department of Defense to enforce the order in a way similar to how the Department of Education enforces Title IX.

The prevalent argument now is that military academies are different enough from colleges that it doesn't make sense to apply a law meant for civilian institutions. Cadets, like all members of the armed services, are already subject to the uniform code of military justice. As the code is the foundation of military law, academy cadets can face much harsher punishments than typical college students. Colleges can suspend or expel a student they believe committed a sexual assault. Academy cadets can be court-martialed. But victims' advocates say there are few sanctions for academies that mishandle cases of sexual assault.

"Currently, victims of sex discrimination at service academies can complain only to their commanding officers and service academies’ administrations by appealing up the chain of command, and cannot seek relief outside of the military system," SWAN said in a statement. "This process provides no option to challenge discriminatory academy policies or a school’s inadequate procedures to address sexual assault and harassment reports. The lack of protections for cadets and midshipmen contrasts sharply with the array of sex discrimination prohibitions that protect civilian students, including Title IX, which does not apply to the service academies."

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