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in brief: senator McCain advises women not to join the US armed forces

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US Republican Senator John McCain has lost faith in the US armed forces’ ability to respond to the sexual violence perpetrated against women. Senator McCain admitted he can no longer in good conscience advise women to join the service and during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing said, ‘Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not’.

Senator McCain’s comments follow the release of an anonymous survey of military personnel which found that as many as 26,000 US military members had faced unwanted sexual contact in 2012 but that there had been less than 3000 reports.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering proposals to address what Senator McCain has labelled as a ‘cancer’ threatening the entire military. One of the proposals being considered is stripping control of sexual assault cases from unit commanders.

At present, military commanders have the ability to decide themselves whether an accused soldier faces non-judicial punishment in the interests of helping commanders ‘maintain unit cohesion and discipline’.

Army General Martin Dempsey has said he ‘took his eye off the ball’ in the 12-year period during which there was active deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, and admitted that currently the armed forces allow people with histories of sexual misconduct to serve.

According to Sen. Claire McCaskill, it is impossible to know how many cases of physical, sexual violence occur in the defence force, as the category of ‘unwanted sexual contact’ is so broad that it includes anything from ‘looking at someone sideways’ to rape.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will soon vote on a raft of amendments to US law to counteract the culture of sexual assault in the military.

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