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What Would Chuck Hagel Do to Combat the Invisible War Against Military Rape?

01/07/2013 03:34 pm ET | Updated Mar 09, 2013

According to the agency that aspiring Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wishes to lead, 19,000 of his future employees are raped by thousands of his other future employees every year. Forced to combat what they call an Invisible War, women (and some men) in the military find themselves at shocking risk for sexual assault by colleagues and the double bind of being charged as unfit for duty if they report sexual assaults.

As President Barack Obama's choice for Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel must immediately address this pressing issue.

My first suggestion to Hagel is that he see The Invisible War with military rape survivors, including those women and men profiled in this award-winning documentary that has exposed the epidemic and spurred calls to change antiquated Pentagon rules that blocked prosecutions and thwarted justice.

To the Obama administration's credit, taking prosecuting discretion away from immediate commanders was an interim step ordered two days after Secretary Panetta saw the documentary last spring. But as the film's director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering have since pointed out, Secretary Panetta's new policies are not a panacea because according to the new rules, those at rank of colonel are still empowered to dismiss cases, despite completely lacking any kind of legal training or adequate education regarding sexual assault investigation and prosecution.

Second, Hagel must tell America what his plan for zero tolerance of military rape looks like. To date, Hagel has admirably spoken on the need to support our veterans, including those suffering from military sexual trauma, but as Secretary he must lead the charge to prevent military sexual trauma. In the coming days we need his outline of a systematic approach that combats crime, prosecutes offenders and protects survivors.

Third, Hagel must state his intentions to enforce the Jeanne Shaheen amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. We know that as a Republican Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel voted yes on maintaining a ban on Military Base Abortions in June 2000. We also know that the Commander in Chief just signed a military law enacting Jeanne Shaheen's 2012 amendment to allow servicewomen coverage for abortions in cases of rape or incest. Regardless of whether or not Chuck Hagel has evolved to join over 75 percent of Americans who believe in abortions rights in the case of rape or incest, as Secretary, he must state unequivocally his intent to enforce that law.

In the coming days, women and men concerned about America's military rape epidemic must not let those tens of thousands rape survivors suffer in silence. Just as LGBT Americans are rightly insistent that Chuck Hagel must implement U.S. law and Commander in Chief Barack Obama's orders on gay soldiers in the military, women are watching to see Chuck Hagel address this security concern head-on. We must insist that Chuck Hagel meet with military rape survivors, describe a zero tolerance plan and show the world how the Obama administration will combat -- and win -- the invisible war against military rape.