Gillibrand, Boxer Call on Department of Defense to Criminalize Military Hazing
Recent Suicides Highlight Need for an Anti-Hazing Statute in Military Criminal Law
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today wrote to Jeh Johnson, the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, to urge support for the inclusion of an anti-hazing statute in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the code of military criminal laws that covers all U.S. military members worldwide.
In their letter, Senators Gillibrand and Boxer wrote, “We strongly believe that adding a specific anti-hazing statute in military criminal law would not only reinforce the fact that hazing has no place in America’s military, but would also send an unequivocal message that hazing will be met with serious consequences should it occur.”
Military hazing is an issue that continues to affect the lives of American service men and women, both at home and abroad. The recent suicides by victims of hazing—such as Lance Corporal Harry Lew, Private Danny Chen and allegedly Private Hamson McPherson, Jr.—have demonstrated the need for additional and decisive actions to address this issue.
Hazing is not limited to the military and has become a national problem, especially at America’s colleges and universities. To date, 44 states have anti-hazing statutes that have been enacted into law. In their letter, Senators Boxer and Gillibrand wrote that adding an anti-hazing statute to the Uniform Code of Military Justice will ensure that hazing is similarly recognized by the military as a serious offense.
“Our brave service men and women make sacrifices each and every day to keep us safe. They deserve nothing less than to know that we will protect them in return,” the Senators wrote.
Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) spearheaded a similar letter in the House of Representatives.
Senator Boxer is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus. Senator Gillibrand is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
You can read the full text of the letter below:
October 2, 2012
The Honorable Jeh C. Johnson
General Counsel of the Department of Defense
1600 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1600
Dear Mr. Johnson:
We write today to urge you to support the inclusion of a hazing statute in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). We strongly believe that adding a specific anti-hazing statute in military criminal law would not only reinforce the fact that hazing has no place in America’s military, but would also send an unequivocal message that hazing will be met with serious consequences should it occur.
Military hazing is a very real issue that continues to affect the lives of our service men and women, both at home and abroad. As you know, hazing can take many different forms ranging from emotional abuse and verbal harassment to physical assault—all of which have serious psychological and physical effects on the victim. We appreciate efforts by the Department of Defense to take steps to address this serious issue through training and awareness programs, as well as through improved reporting mechanisms.
However, recent examples of military hazing demonstrate just how destructive it is and emphasize that more must be done to eliminate hazing practices from our ranks. In February, eight sailors were discharged from the Navy after a hazing incident—which was captured on camera—where a sailor was choked and physically assaulted as a rite of initiation into a new department. Another recent hazing incident at Fort Bragg involved a soldier being struck in the chest with a wooden mallet during an event commemorating his promotion. Moments after suffering the tremendous physical blow, the soldier collapsed to the ground and suffered a seizure. This event was also caught on camera.
Additionally, the recent suicides by victims of hazing such as Lance Corporal Harry Lew, Private Danny Chen and allegedly Private Hamson McPherson, Jr. further represent the very real human toll that hazing can take. In April 2011, Lance Corporal Lew took his own life hours after being physically abused and humiliated by fellow Marines for falling asleep while on guard duty at his base in Afghanistan. Similarly, Private Chen died by suicide in Afghanistan last year after weeks of verbal taunts and physical abuse. These are tragedies.
We understand that this problem is not unique to our military. Hazing has become an all too common problem nationwide—particularly at colleges and universities. Recognizing the seriousness of hazing, 44 states have enacted laws that make it a crime. In fact, some of these states, including California and Florida, have gone a step further—allowing for felony prosecutions in the most serious instances of hazing.
Forcefully and effectively addressing hazing incidents and eliminating the practice of hazing are goals we are certain the military shares as a values-based organization. As such, we ask that you support the inclusion of a hazing statute in the UCMJ. It is also crucial that any such statute include a clear, comprehensive definition of hazing that addresses the physical, mental, and emotional trauma that can be incurred by victims.
Our brave service men and women make sacrifices each and every day to keep us safe. They deserve nothing less than to know that we will protect them in return.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request. We look forward to your prompt response.
Barbara Boxer Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator United States Senator
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