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Ever since a recently released Pentagon study claimed that the number of sexual assaults committed in the military is rising, everyone wants to pile on the military for not doing enough to prevent sexual assaults. It’s an easy target. Well, it’s easy if you fail to mention what the military is already doing or fail to make suggestions for what they might do better. It’s an easy target if you fail to mention that the pressure from command to crack down on sexual assaults has led to shoddy investigations by investigators who assume that the accused is guilty and ignore contradictory evidence.

Lawrence Downes goes a step further in his recent editorial in the New York Times. Downes takes issue with the military stating that it has a zero-tolerance policy on sexual assault after accusations are made. He asks, “Does the Pentagon know what ‘zero tolerance’ means?” Downes then goes on to cite a long list of reported incidents of sexual assault in the military. In Mr. Downes mind the fact that there are still incidents of sexual assault in the military means that the military does not have zero tolerance for sexual assault.

However, it is Downes who apparently does not know what “zero tolerance” means. It means that after a service member is proven guilty then, and only then, does the military act to punish the behavior and ensure that service member does not commit the same acts again. Downes wants reforms. He, like so many others, seems to think that the military can somehow know about and punish sexual assault in advance. It can’t.

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