JUSTICE IN THE DESERT
In 2004, I deployed the first time as a reservist to Qatar. A paralegal, Master Sergeant Ruth Patterson, and I served on the legal staff of the base office. We prosecuted a number of cases, including an involuntary manslaughter case, two sexual assaults, and a poisoning.
We discovered the first sexual assault when the survivor came to the hospital in the immediate aftermath of the event. As with so many cases, her attacker had used alcohol to facilitate the attack. Despite how tough it was for her, the survivor cooperated with the investigation. This young woman, far from home and her family, wanted to stand strong to see justice done to avoid another woman suffering as she had. We put together a team of investigators and searched for the attacker, who turned out to be an officer in a flying unit.
When we interviewed his fellow squadron officers, they uniformly defended him, saying all the tired lines we had heard so many times before: “She’s a drunk.” “How do you know she didn’t want it?” “He would never do something like that.” They defended him until another young woman from their own squadron came forward, reporting that he had done the same to her. Having a stranger report a crime by their friend did not make them think about whether it was true, but having another young woman who was like a little sister to them report the same thing made them take it seriously. Some even apologized for their earlier support.
The road to a conviction was long. MSgt Patterson was a rock for these women throughout the process. In the end, we won a conviction for the offender and his dismissal from the Air Force. It took a large team of people to investigate the crime, establish the truth of the survivors' testimony, and prosecute the case to the end. Military justice systems have been slow to address the problem of sexual assault. I’ve used the opportunities provided in my JAG role to move systems in the right direction, through prosecuting effectively and establishing programs that ensure victims have lawyers to represent their interests. We are far from perfect, but we are making progress.