A US senator has delivered a rebuke to a Wall Street Journal columnist who accused her of waging a crusade to criminalise male sexuality and of being "histrionic" about sexual assault in the military.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, was responding to a piece in the Wall Street Journal last week by James Taranto about McCaskill's blocking of the Obama-backed nomination of Lt Susan Helms to the position of vice commander of air force space command.

McAskill, a member of the Senate armed services committee, is holding up the nomination because Helms overturned the conviction for Capt Matthew Herrera, an officer under her command who was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a female lieutenant.

The Helms case mirrors a similar one, in which an air force general overturned a conviction for a pilot's abusive sexual contact, which caused widespread outrage and prompted defence secretary Chuck Hagel to recommend military commanders be stripped of their ability to reverse convictions.

In his piece, Taranto describes McCaskill's hold on Helms as "an effort to criminalise male sexuality", calls Herrera's sexual assault "hanky panky" and suggests that the victim was blameworthy by "acting recklessly".

Writing in the Daily Beast on Thursday, McCaskill describes Taranto as out-of-touch, his column as a "spirited defence of a convicted sex offender" and accuses him of being part of a culture which places the blame for sexual assault on victims.

She writes:

But the sad fact is that Mr Taranto's disregard for the severity of sexual assault is not nearly as uncommon as it should be – in either civilian or military culture.

That one of the most respected and widely read papers in the country saw fit to repeatedly offer Mr Taranto such a large platform is a reminder of how important our efforts, and those of many of my colleagues, to tackle the prevalence of sexual assault in our military, have been – and of how far we still have to go.

My 'hold' on this vote, which Mr Taranto finds so objectionable, means that I object to her nomination being unanimously and silently confirmed, and that a vote on her nomination should proceed only with the support of three-fifths of the Senate.

I met with Lt General Helms, looked her in the eye, and talked with her at length about this case. And while I find her situation unfortunate, it's important that we remember who the real victim is in all this: the woman who was brave enough to come forward in a difficult culture and environment, sit in a witness stand, and tell the story of her sexual assault. A woman who then watched the decision of a jury – a jury that heard the testimony offered by both the victim and the defense– overturned by someone who was never even in the courtroom.

Mr Taranto says that I'm involved in a crusade to "criminalize male sexuality." For decades, from my time as a courtroom prosecutor and throughout my career in public service, I have indeed done my best to criminalize violence. And I have never subscribed to Mr. Taranto's bizarre and deeply out of touch understanding of sexual assault as somehow being a two-way street between a victim and an assailant.

Mr Taranto's arguments contribute to an environment that purposely places blame in all the wrong places, and has made the current culture and status quo an obstruction to sorely needed change.

My colleagues and I are fighting not to criminalize men, but to bring the cowards who commit sexual assault to justice. And our fight won't stop until we give the brave men and women of our military the resources and justice they deserve.

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