My Turn: In response to Rich Moniak

  • Wednesday, February 24, 2016 1:05am
  • Opinion

As in previous Empire columns, Richard Moniak is taking aim at Sen. Dan Sullivan with his usual combination of selective facts and misleading arguments. In his latest column, Moniak implies that Sullivan is not working with sufficient diligence to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military.

Nothing can be farther from the truth. In fact, during his first year as our U.S. Senator, he has become a leader in pressing for and supporting policies that combat sexual assault and domestic violence, not only in the military but nationwide.

Sullivan has made this a top priority throughout his public career, developing and spearheading Alaska’s Choose Respect campaign as Attorney General and then taking that fight to Washington D.C. as a U.S. Senator.

In his short time in office, he has already authored two important pieces of legislation to combat sexual abuse and domestic violence, both of which have passed the Senate.

Sullivan and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recently introduced the Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent (POWER) Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate. The POWER Act mandates that each year, the U.S. attorney in every judicial district across the country holds at least one event promoting pro bono legal services.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence estimated that over the course of one day in September 2014, up to 10,000 requests for services by abused women, including legal representation, weren’t met because of lack of resources. Studies have shown that one of the best ways to combat domestic violence and sexual abuse is to ensure that victims have a lawyer. The Senator envisions that his bill will result in an army of lawyers across the country who will work on a pro-bono basis for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Another provision authored by Sullivan, which was included in the larger Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in May 2015. It requires the U.S. Justice Department to allow state prosecutors to pursue federal offenses against those who violate the Mann Act — the federal law the makes it a crime to engage in sex trafficking across state lines. If the Justice Department does not cross-designate state prosecutors to pursue these human trafficking crimes, then the Attorney General of the United States has 60 days to provide a detailed explanation as to why she is denying the request.

This new law will help provide much needed resources in the battle against human trafficking, in the state and across the country, especially for women and minors. And it will also help right a terrible wrong that was allegedly perpetrated against victims in Alaska.

Because of Sullivan’s legislation, Alaska’s Attorney General Craig Richards recently requested that the state be cross-designated by the Justice Department to pursue charges against Bill Allen, the government’s main witness in the trial against former Sen. Ted Stevens. Very credible allegations that Allen had sexually abused minors were unearthed during that trial, yet the federal government refused to bring charges and refused to allow the state to do so. Justice Department officials have never sufficiently explained why, and for years there has been speculation in Alaska that the Department of Justice induced Allen to testify against Stevens in exchange for protecting Allen against human trafficking prosecutions.

This is wrong. Victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse of minors — whether in Alaska or nationwide — need to know that their government is working for them, not against them. And perpetrators need to know that we won’t rest until they are brought to justice.

Moniak’s column mentions none of the significant progress made by the Senate’s passage of these bills championed and authored by Sullivan.

As for sexual assault in the military, during Sullivan’s 22-year career as a Marine Corps officer, he has worked hard to ensure zero tolerance for sexual abuse in his ranks, and he’s now using his experience with this issue on his seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), building on provisions in previous NDAAs, included numerous protections for victims and strengthened the ability to prosecute offenders more effectively and efficiently. Sullivan supported these additional provisions.

It is correct that Sullivan and 48 of his colleagues did not support a well-meaning amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand which would have stripped military commanders of the ability to hold their subordinates accountable for suspected sexual assault, vesting that authority instead with Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) prosecutors.

But Moniak’s reference to the “old boys club” comment implied that only males in the U.S. Senate opposed Gillibrand’s bill. That’s simply not true. A bipartisan group of women senators also opposed it.

Sullivan shared the concerns of many of his colleagues, including Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte — both of whom are former prosecutors and sit on the Armed Services Committee — that the amendment would actually reduce the number of commanders who would have been qualified to convene a court martial and might result in fewer sexual assault cases being prosecuted.

Gillibrand’s amendment would have also reduced the maximum punishment for crimes of retaliation against victims for reporting. That is unacceptable.

According to McCaskill, Gillibrand’s amendment “would have fallen short, and that it in fact would have backfired, resulting in higher rates of retaliation against victims and fewer prosecutions of predators.”

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who served for 23 years in the Iowa National Guard and just recently retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, also opposed the amendment.

Further, commanders must never be let off the hook for failing to ensure the well-being of those who serve under them. This is the essence of leadership and command. And it has never been more important than it is today.

Sexual abuse and domestic violence are issues that not enough men in Washington, D.C. are talking about or taking action on. But Sullivan is doing both. That’s why in his first year in the U.S. Senate he’s emerged as a leader on these critical issues and will continue such leadership.

• Mike Anderson is the Press Secretary for Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

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