WASHINGTON — In his first public appearance heading the Defense Department’s anti-sexual assault office, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow admitted his new job — which parachuted him into the midst of a political firestorm over the military’s failure to conquer the problem — is already keeping him awake at night.
“It’s a daunting task,” he said Friday in the Pentagon briefing room. “I’ve lost a lot of sleep in my first week on the job, but I’m committed to accomplishing the mission.”
Snow, who previously served as head of strategy, plans and policy for the Army, was in the briefing room with staff members to announce the latest numbers on sexual assault reports at the military academies.
They’re down slightly, but Snow didn’t claim that as a victory. It could mean fewer sexual assaults took place, but it could also mean fewer cadets and midshipmen are reporting the crimes, he acknowledged.
The questions that surround the reporting military sexual crimes – Are victims too fearful of the consequences to speak up? Does the basic structure of the military justice system helps shield predators? – drove Congress to make numerous changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice when it approved the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act in December.
Among them are measures that criminalize retaliation against those who report sexual assault, a requirement for a civilian review if a prosecutor declines to prosecute a case and a requirement for the service branches to provide special attorneys to advocate specifically for victims.
But questions whether troops are able to freely report assaults also drove an effort by a group of legislators, headed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to more radically overhaul military prosecutions. Her proposed legislation would take the decision to prosecute or not out of the chain of command where alleged assaults occur.
The Pentagon brass argued strongly against such a move, saying it could impact overall order and discipline, and allies in Congress have staved off the effort so far. But legislators have that while perhaps the military has bought some time, more invasive surgery could be around the corner if the Pentagon doesn’t handle the seemingly intractable sexual assault problem soon.
And in his first week on the job, Snow is losing sleep finding there are no simple solutions.
“This is a complex problem,” he said. “And it’s going to require a complex set of initiatives, solutions — I mean, it’s a tough thing and it is going to take time.”