This is a tough case. Spc. Suzanne Swift, aged 22, has been charged for going AWOL when her unit was deployed in 2005. She states that during her first deployment, she was routinely subject to derogatory sexual remarks by her superiors and was raped twice by her commanding officers. Although she confided in a friend who was a non-commissioned officer and in her mother, she never brought a formal complaint because she feared retaliation. When the time came for her second deployment, Swift was packed and ready to go but realized within hours of her departure that she just could not bring herself to undergo a similar experience again. Her mother contacted a lawyer in an effort to negotiate a discharge.
I hate to say it, but I don't think that the military has any choice but to bring some sort of disciplinary action against Swift. Not showing up , especially at the time of deployment, especially during wartime, has got to be something that is considered unacceptable.
That having been said, even in civilian circles, there are many reasons that victims do not report offenses right away. Fear of retaliation is a very good reason, especially when you are in a military situation in which your superiors have enormous control over you, often in life or death situations. And, while I am not familiar with military life, I know the military is notorious for not doing enough in response to complaints of sexual assault.
So there is a real conflict here. On the one hand, even though I understand completely the probable reasons that Swift acted the way she did, I am not sure what kind of exception the military can carve out for this situation. The time for Swift to try to negotiate a discharge was before her deployment. On the other hand, it is not fair for the military to expect a soldier to return to a situation in which the military itself (i.e. her superiors) abused her sexually-- especially if the reporting system and responses by the military to reporting are flawed. (I have no idea if the latter is true or not, but it is an extremely relevant consideration.)
Where I come down on it is this: Swift should be charged or disciplined in some manner, but the extenuating circumstances should be heavily taken into account. I can't speak to what I would do if I were the trier of fact in the case, because I would want to know all the circumstances in great detail. But it seems to me that the ideal solution may be "a slap on the wrists." There should be some acknowledgment that Swift did not do what she should have done as a soldier in this situation. On the other hand, there are enormous mitigating circumstances here that should be taken into account. I vote for some sort of administrative reprimand. I also hope that the military authorities are properly addressing her allegations of abuse. And I damn well wish they would get their act together so this kind of thing stops happening. Ultimately, there is a far greater threat to military effectiveness by commanders abusing those under their command than there is from one 22 year old soldier not showing up.