Victims of sexual assault in the military have well-documented difficulty with getting justice after their attacks. But even when rapists in the military are convicted and sentenced, a loophole in the criminal justice system can leave them free to attack again.
The Military Track, Register and Alert Communities Act of 2015 (Military TRAC Act), introduced in Congress on Thursday by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), and Pat Meehan (R-PA), aims to close that loophole.
Whereas civilians convicted of sex crimes have to register as sex offenders before they leave prison, members of the military are expected to register themselves after their release. Some simply don’t do so, and they are able to get away with it because of problems with transmitting records between military and civilian authorities.
An investigation by Scripps News found that 242 of 1,312 convicted military sex offenders were not on any public U.S. sex offender registries. One, Matthew Carr, was convicted of assaulting seven women in the U.S. Air Force by posing as a gynecologist. He dated and assaulted another woman in Wisconsin after his release, and was able to temporarily avoid detection when the woman’s suspicious mother tried and failed to look him up in a sex offender registry.
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The military court opinions in Carr’s case accurately described his crime as “indecent assault,” but somehow it ended up as a lesser “assault consummated by battery” in the paperwork sent to probation officers.
“This is a frightening loophole and it must be closed,” Speier said.
The Military TRAC Act would establish a Department of Defense sex offender registry, require offenders to register before their release from prison, and make the registry available to the public on a website. It would also ensure better information sharing with civilian law enforcement agencies.
“Cracking down on sexual assault in the military extends beyond just punishing those who committed the heinous crimes,” said Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran. “It must also protect both civilians and soldiers after the assailants leave their respective service.”