The Air Force has responded to calls from Congress to rid the ranks of sex offenders and ensure victims can report these crimes without fear of retaliation.
The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act requires automatic discharge proceedings for any military member convicted of sexual assault. It also directs a general officer review for any airman recommended for involuntary separation within 12 months of making an unrestricted sexual assault report.
The Air Force went a step further when it adopted several new measures July 2. Here are five things you need to know:
1. You don’t have to be convicted at a court-martial. Commanders must initiate discharge proceedings against any airman found to have committed or attempted to commit rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact or forcible sodomy. That includes airmen convicted at general court-martial, a special court-martial or in civilian court, said Scott Martin, senior air staff counsel assigned to the service’s administrative law directorate. It also includes airmen who are administratively disciplined for these crimes, such as in an Article 15 hearing.
2. Commanders may recommend a waiver for involuntary separation. The waiver has to include evidence that the crime was a departure from his or her customary behavior; is not likely to reoccur; did not involve penetration; there were no aggravating circumstances; the airman did not abuse rank, authority, grade or position in committing the offense; and the airman’s continued presence is consistent with the Air Force’s best interest.
“You have to meet all of those,” Martin said. “That’s a significant burden for the member to meet.”
The general court-martial convening authority — usually a two- or three-star general — will make the final decision on whether the airman will remain in the Air Force or be discharged.
3. Discharge board rules won’t change. Officers who have served at least five years and enlisted members who have served at least six years or are a non-commissioned officer may still elect to take their case before a discharge board, a panel that hears evidence and renders a decision. Airmen who do not meet these criteria do not have the option of going before the board. Airmen who do meet the criteria may choose to forgo the board.
4. Airmen who abuse special positions also may be separated. Another new provision in Air Force instruction allows commanders to recommend for involuntary discharge any airman in a special position of trust who has an unprofessional relationship. That includes recruiters, military training instructors, and faculty and staff members.
“If you are in one of those positions and you use that position to date or develop a social relationship or involve in consensual sexual activity, it is now a formal basis for initiating separation,” Martin said.
5. New rules give victims added protection. An airman who is recommended for involuntary separation and has made an unrestricted sexual assault report may now have his or her case reviewed by a general officer in the chain of command.
The case will not automatically be reviewed; the airman will be told the option is available and must request it, Martin said. “If she makes the election, it will be reviewed by the general court-martial convening authority.”