By David N Young
The Rossmoor resident who has founded a military policy think tank is now front and center of a growing debate by Congress about how to curb sexual assault in the U.S. military.
The announcement by U.S. Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona that she had been raped by her commanding officer while serving in the U.S. Air Force is just another indication that the misguided “Feres Doctrine” is doing irreparable harm to the morale of our military services, according to Dwight Stirling, the CEO of the Center for Law and Military Policy (CLMP).
Stirling, who lives in Rossmoor, is a former military prosecutor and will soon be the only legal scholar in the U.S. to receive a doctorate in the study of the Feres Doctrine. “It is clear that until Congress finally overturns this misguided doctrine, I don’t think there can be any significant change or reduction in military sexual abuse,” he said.
The Huntington Beach think tank held its first fundraising event at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in December. Actress and activist Alyssa Milano was a guest speaker at the event.
While the group is still in the organizational phase of development, this week’s Senate hearing that focused on the problems associated sexual assault within the ranks of the U.S. military has called the group to the national forefront.
“We commend Senator McSally for her bravery and honesty in telling her story to the nation,” he said. “But her story, unfortunately, is far from unique. Researchers estimate that well over half of all women serving in the military are at some point sexually assaulted during their military careers,” said Stirling.
“During my 26 years in uniform I witnessed so many weaknesses in the processes involving sexual assault prevention, investigation, and adjudication,” Sen. McSally said. “(Military service) victims mostly suffered in silence,” she said.
“They suffer in silence and will continue to do so as long as the chain of command is responsible for the prosecution of suspects, most of whom are in the chain of command,” said Stirling. Some estimates say 90 percent of victims, like McSally, don’t even bother to report.
“It is outrageous that sexual assault is characterized as an occupational hazard of military service,” said Stirling. “The only way to fix the system is to empower the victims of military sexual assault to hold their assailants accountable in civil court.”
Stirling leads the CLMP, a growing coalition of retired JAG officers, attorneys, military sexual survivor groups, and other advocates, who believe today’s Senate Committee hearing is proof positive that despite attempts by the military to modify the system, the situation is getting worse.
Stirling said he expects to soon visit Washington to begin discussing his proposals with key members of Congress and the U.S. Senate.
Dwight Stirling is the founder & CEO of the Center for Law and Military Policy (CLMP), a nonprofit think tank working to restore and protect legal rights for active duty service members and veterans. He is a USC Professor and a JAG Officer in the California Army National Guard. Stirling was the founding chair of the Orange County Bar Association’s Veterans and Military Committee and was recognized in 2016 as Orange County’s “most influential” for his co-founding of the Veterans Legal Institute.