In these uncertain times, the United States needs leaders who take sexual assault seriously. It’s a moral issue. For too long, we’ve tolerated sexual assault in our military and other institutions. It’s also a national security issue. News reports show that the Department of Defense is going to miss recruiting goals by more than 10,000 troops this year and is projecting a gap of at 21,000 or more active-duty troops by 2023. We can’t recruit and retain the best and brightest to our military if we don’t take the problem of sexual assault seriously.

Mike Franken stated in a 2021 Intercept article that unreported sexual crimes in Africa between 2010 and 2020 was a partisan attack. As a source in that article, I can attest the article was written to highlight problems of how the military dealt with sexual assault. There was no partisan agenda whatsoever. At the time, Mr. Franken was months away from announcing his eventual bid for the U.S. Senate.

Speaking from experience, I worked as a Sexual Assault and Harassment Response and Prevention Program Manager for U.S. Army Africa from 2015 to 2018. I witnessed firsthand the problems of how sexual assault claims were handled in Africa during Mr. Franken’s watch as Deputy Commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) from 2015-2017. During this time period, where Franken served in senior leadership roles from 2011-12 and from 2015-18, AFRICOM severely underreported sexual assault cases involving U.S. military personnel.  Franken and other Senior leaders had all of the power and tools to correct this problem; their willful blindness must not be ignored.

Between 2010 and 2020, the Pentagon listed just 73 cases of sexual assault in the AFRICOM area of operations. Yet, files obtained by The Intercept and Type Investigations show that military criminal investigators logged at least 158 allegations of sexual offenses in the AFRICOM area of operations during that same period. These reported cases, over twice the amount claimed, were just the tip of the iceberg.

Survivors of sexual assault said they felt reluctant or afraid to aid investigations, were pressured to change their accounts, and were constrained by their chain of command, according to the AFRICOM files. Some thought that they would not be believed and doubted that reporting an assault would lead to a positive outcome. Others were ignored, laughed off, suspected of exaggerating, or accused by leadership of lying about the abuse.

When I tried to contact the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SAPRO) office in Africa to take care of service members, I often could not get people on the phone. I witnessed male and female service members languishing and treated like they were part of the problem. They weren’t cared for because the system wasn’t operating properly in accordance with the law, public policy, and military directives. There was no oversight.

Americans should be outraged; no commander or politician should remain in positions of power when they fail the service members that fight for our basic freedoms.

Our service members deserve justice. Too often, senior leaders in the military attempt to sweep crimes under the rug or just don’t pay the proper attention to it.

How can America trust your ability to lead when you fail at basic execution of military leadership and keeping the troops safe? Under your watch, male and female service members expressed did not feel heard. My work experience in AFRICOM points to a culture of disrespect for men and women who were victims of felony crimes. The silence from senior leadership is deadly, and we are witnessing a National Security Crisis due to a lack of integrity and failure to uphold federal laws.

I’ve made standing up for sexual assault victims my life’s work. I’ve worked with Democrats and with Republicans. I’ll work with anyone who will fight to end sexual violence and harassment in our military. Any claim that sexual abuse is a partisan problem will result in the destruction of our military.

Service members should not fear their fellow service members or leadership.. This is not a partisan issue. It’s one that concerns us all. Those who were in positions of authority who didn’t do their duty should be held to account.

Amy Franck –  President and Founder of Never Alone Advocacy & Co-Chair of the Military Women’s Coalition