In the News

Frankel, resident advocate for military law change

f t # e
Washington, D.C., September 28, 2015 | comments
Jan Engoren

On Sept. 17, former Boynton Beach resident Elisha Morrow and Congresswoman Lois Frankel testified before a closed door hearing of the Congressional Judicial Proceedings Panel in Washington, D.C. on sexual assault in the military.

Morrow, a former Coast Guard recruit, said she was sexually harassed at boot camp by her company commander in Cape May, N.J., who forced her to clean his quarters on her hands and knees late at night while he made lewd and sexual comments to her.

"I knew I had to do something," said Morrow, a 911 operator in northern Palm Beach County. "I began writing letters and Congresswoman Frankel was supportive of my case from the beginning."

The two have been advocating for a change in military law since 2013 when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law.

The law includes Frankel's provision that directs the military to examine the need for a new definition of rape and sexual assault in cases when someone abuses his or her position in the military chain of command.

"We want to change military law to expand the definition of rape and sexual assault," Frankel said. "If somebody uses their authority to commit a sexual act upon another by using their position of authority they will be found guilty."

Morrow left the Coast Guard after only 14 months and later learned of other colleagues who were sexually assaulted and raped.

Her company commander was not charged with rape, but with a lesser crime of maltreatment and adultery. He served one year in prison but could not be charged with rape, under the current military law, which requires fear of bodily harm or death.

Both Morrow and Frankel said they were encouraged by the JPP hearing and are awaiting recommendations on how to proceed by February.

"It was a very good, enlightening and uplifting meeting," Frankel said.

"The panel, composed of civilians and military personnel, lawyers and non-lawyers, was engaged and shocked to hear Elisha's story," she said. "They asked good questions and it was evident they had given a lot of thought and discussion to the issue."

"It was a positive experience," Morrow said. "It's good to know they are taking it as seriously as they are."

"Our goal is to close the loopholes in the military laws that permit rape and sexual assault to happen," she said. "I'm grateful to Congresswoman Frankel because she took me seriously and ran with it."

The Pentagon estimates that there are as many as 26,000 sexual assaults each year in the Armed Forces, but according to Frankel, only 3,000 of those are reported.

"Men are also often victims of sexual assault in the military," said Frankel, whose son served in the Marine Corps. "As a society, we have an obligation to give them a safer environment in which to serve."

"Serving in the military is an honorable profession, but we have a responsibility as a society to make sure that no one has to encounter these conditions," she said. "In Elisha's case, her commanding officer used his uniform as a weapon to threaten her."

"Our military personnel sacrifice for us, and we need to stand up for them," Frankel said.

What advice does Morrow have for women or men who find themselves in a similar situation?

"We need to address these issues, or the problems will continue," she said. "Speak up and find your voice."

f t # e