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Trump's solution to military sexual assault wouldn't actually change the process at all

Donald Trump during the NBC News Commander-in-Chief forum
Donald Trump during the NBC News Commander-in-Chief forum
NBC News

At a military-focused candidate forum on Wednesday night, Donald Trump responded to a question about the problem of sexual assault in the military, calling it “massive,” adding that the justice process “takes too long.”

Then he was asked about a tweet he once sent suggesting he hasn’t always felt so strongly:

During the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum, a father in the audience asked Trump what he thought about his daughter’s decision not to join the military after studying up on the risk of sexual assault. Trump seemed to agree with the father.

“It's a massive problem,” Trump said.

Host Matt Lauer followed up by asking Trump about the tweet, which reads as the very opposite:

TRUMP: It is a correct tweet. Many people think that's absolutely correct. We need to have a --

LAUER: It should have been expected? Does that mean the only way to fix it is take women out of the military?

TRUMP: Since then, it's gotten worse. No, not kick them out but something has to happen. Right now, nobody gets prosecuted.

Without really rectifying the two positions — “what do you expect” versus “massive problem” — he seems to be shifting around onto another topic: the military justice system.

“I want to keep the court system within the military. It shouldn't be outside of the military,” Trump said to the father. “We have to come down very, very hard on that. Your daughter is absolutely right. … We have to do something about that problem. The best thing we can do is set up a court system within the military. Right now, the court system practically doesn't exist. Takes too long.”

What Trump referenced in his answer is a debate that’s been going on in Congress and the Pentagon for years: What is the best way to handle cases of sexual assault?

Currently, the reports of sexual assault must stay within the chain of command. This, as many advocates have pointed out, can be a problem for those reporting because sometimes the victim’s assailant is his or her commander. Victims can go above the commander, but there are strong disincentives to do so because victims fear retaliation and isolation from the unit.

A proposal, put forth by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that has garnered broad bipartisan support, would create a new prosecutorial system outside the chain of command, creating an independent investigation and prosecution unit.

Trump, for his part, is essentially advocating for changing nothing about the way military sexual assault is handled.

Trump’s suggestion that women’s very presence in the military is the cause of sexual assault would probably come as a shock to many in the military. His response suggests a “boys will be boys” attitude, which has long reinforced the idea that it is women who should be their own guards against sexual assault.

Even if Trump decided to solve the problem of sexual assault by kicking women out of the military, that wouldn’t solve another problem when it comes to sexual assault: Men are also victims.