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MSNBC Host Patrick J. Murphy Reflects on Sexual Assaults in the Military, College Campuses

MSNBC Host Patrick J. Murphy

April 10, 2014

Former U.S. Congressman and MSNBC host Patrick J. Murphy visited the law school on April 9 to discuss deficiencies in the ways that universities and the military address sexual assaults.

"The average sexual assault predator has over 300 victims," yet the military and colleges still treat assaults as "training" or "public relations" issues (rather than crimes), Murphy said. The only way to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults in either institution is to reform the way incidents are brought to light and prosecuted, Murphy argued.

In the military, for example, sexual assaults are now only prosecuted if a complaint is reported through the chain of command, Murphy said. However, most sexual abuses in the military are perpetrated by a superior who is also frequently a repeat offender, he added. This system discourages victims and their immediate superiors from pursuing the matter, Murphy said, noting that they fear the repercussions from higher ranked military personnel. Furthermore, even when an assault is reported, high-ranked military officials could elect not to prosecute the matter, Murphy said, citing one instance where a general decided not to pursue sexual assault charges against a pilot simply because of the pilot's tactical value.

Prosecutors also face obstacles even at trial, Murphy said, since assault claims often turn on the complex issue of consent. Frequently, assailants intoxicate victims, whether by alcohol or drugs, making them unable to recall whether they "consented," Murphy argued.

These are issues that budding lawyers, like those in the audience, should be thinking about before they enter legal practice, Murphy said.  Murphy commended efforts like those by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, that call for a new enforcement system in the military that takes reporting outside the chain of command, and that address the ways that colleges deal with sexual abuse.

Murphy also implored the law students in the audience to use their training to fight for such efforts, asking them to question why they pursued a law degree if not to be an instrument of justice seeking to improve the system.