Former Navy SEAL and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), who resigned last year amid allegations of sexual assault and a fundraising felony charge, told supporters recently that he will return to the Navy for active duty service. The revelation highlights the military’s ongoing problem with handling sexual assault and rape allegations.
Greitens is expected to be deployed to the Middle East this fall, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday. He has also been touting a forthcoming book, which is due to be published later this year.
The news follows months of controversy surrounding allegations that Greitens sexually assaulted a woman in his home in 2015, while his wife was away. The woman testified last year that Greitens tied her up in the basement and ripped open her clothes without her consent. He then allegedly blindfolded her, took photos of her, called her “a little whore,” and threatened to make the photos public if she told anyone about the incident. When the woman tried to leave the basement, Greitens attacked her and forced his penis into her mouth.
A Missouri House committee found the allegations to be credible, while Greitens repeatedly denied the claims, calling the investigation into the incident a “political witch hunt.” In the weeks following the initial charge in early 2018, prosecutors also indicted Greitens for illegal fundraising activity. Greitens faced possible impeachment had he not stepped down, which he did in May of last year.
The Navy confirmed to the Kansas City Star that Greitens’ transfer to the selected reserves, for which he applied in April 2019, was approved. Greitens will return to active status as a naval reserve officer and will not deploy as a SEAL.
The Star also reported that Greitens recently met with political operatives in Washington, D.C., signaling a potential return to politics. Indeed, Greitens enjoyed some support from members of the Republican Party amid the scandal last year, many of whom felt he was unfairly targeted and would likely support him again.
But Greitens’ return to the Navy despite the sex assault allegations highlights an urgent problem: that of the military’s failings when handling sexual predation and rape accusations.
Last year, sex assaults in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines — increased by nearly 38%, according to a Pentagon report. The most significant increases were among women in the active duty armed forces, with those between the ages of 17 to 24 facing the highest risk. The Marine Corps had the highest rate of sexual assaults, followed by the Navy.
And the military has a poor track record of investigating allegations of sexual assault. As numerous cases have shown, military commanders often avoid investigating sexual assault claims out of fear that it could impact their jobs. In some cases, commanders will intervene to stop investigations or to limit the punishments of the accused.
This means many incidents of sex assault in the military never are investigated. A 2014 RAND Corporation study found that 67% of men and 54% of women who experienced sexual harassment did not report the violation. And 52% of those who did report the incidents perceive retaliation of some kind.
In stunning testimony to a Senate Armed Forces subcommittee in March, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) told senators about being raped by a superior officer years earlier while serving in the Air Force. She said her mistrust of the system dissuaded her from reporting the incident, and described how poorly her case was handled when she finally did.
Air Force spokesperson Capt. Carrie J. Volpe vowed to tackle the problem, saying in a statement after McSally’s testimony, “We are steadfast in our commitment to eliminate this reprehensible behavior and breach of trust in our ranks.”
McSally’s testimony ultimately led the Pentagon to set up a task force to investigate sexual assault in the military. But Greitens’ return to the Navy seems to run counter to those efforts.