Loophole is setting convicted military rapists free; Congressman introduces bill to close it

(CNN) – Critics say a loophole in the military justice system is allowing service members convicted of sexual assaults to have those convictions overturned.

Air Force veteran Harmony Allen is teaming up with Rep. Brian Mast to end the loophole allowing convicted rapists in the military to be freed. (Source: CNN)

A congressman is now hoping to close that loophole, and he’s getting help from an Air Force veteran who survived an attack by one of her instructors.

Harmony Allen joined the Air Force at 19. Three months after enlisting, while she was training as a radiology technician, one of her instructors, Master Sgt. Richard Collins, brutally raped her.

That was in 2000. It wasn’t until 2014 that Allen reported her rapist’s identity to military officials.

"The PTSD didn't go away. It only got worse,” Allen said. “It just ate at me. And then having a daughter, the fear was even worse."

In 2017, a military court found Collins guilty of rape and sentenced him to 16 and a half years in prison.

But he was released after serving just two years due to a decision by the top U.S. military appeals court last year.

When Allen was raped in August 2000, it was believed there was no statute of limitations for military sexual assaults. If there was enough evidence to convict, the verdict would stick, years or even decades later.

That changed in February 2018, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces found that only a five-year statute of limitations applied to sexual assaults that occurred between 1986 and 2006.

Because Allen was raped in 2000 and Collins was not convicted until 2017, he successfully appealed his guilty verdict under the new ruling.

"There was hard evidence,” Allen said. “There were witnesses. There was the nurse who did the same exam, who said that out of 15 years she still remembered my case. Because I was the only case that after she did the rape kit, she had to send on to a trauma center for the beating that I took during the rape."

Today, Collins is a free man. His lawyer declined to comment for this story.

"Why would they free a convicted rapist who can do it again?” Allen said. “And I feel scared for myself and my family. Is he going to come after me for the years that he did serve?"

Allen said after Collins’ conviction was dismissed, she received a letter from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The correspondence acknowledged the “damage” that had been done to her and her family. It read, in part: “Please know that I am sincerely sorry for everything that happened to you while you were on active duty.”

Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida – a combat veteran and Allen’s representative in Congress – has introduced a bill in her name to close the statute of limitations loophole for rape and sexual assault in the military prior to 2006.

Harmony’s Law has 16 co-sponsors so far – nine Republicans and seven Democrats.

This effort comes as a new report from the Pentagon shows sexual assaults across the U.S. military increased by nearly 40 percent from 2016 to 2018.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan recently announced that the military justice system will now treat sexual harassment as a standalone crime. The Department of Defense views sexual harassment as a significant predictor of sexual assault.

"People that are entering the military or are currently serving in the military, they have to know that it’s a justice-for-all system,” Mast said. “And they have to know that there’s zero tolerance for any actions like this: rape, sexual assault, inappropriate behavior like that of any kind."

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