The Fight Against Sexual Assault in the Military ContinuesPosted: February 5, 2014
Sexual assault has long been an underreported problem in the U.S. military, however it was highlighted in November 2013 when a report from the Pentagon showed a 50% increase in reported assaults over the course of one year. And according to Defense Department officials the numbers continue to rise. Thanks to an effort led by mainstream Republican Senator Susan Collins (ME), the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included improved sexual assault prevention measures, but now Senators on both sides of the aisle are prepared to do more.
Two bills are expected to come up on the Senate floor in the next few weeks, both looking to remedy some of the weaknesses regarding sexual assault in the military system that still remain after the 2013 NDAA. Senator Gillibrand’s (D-NY) bill, S.1752 the Military Justice Improvements Act, is the more far-reaching of the two. The main feature of her bill is that it would alter the command structure, instituting a new system in which a commissioned officer outside the chain of command determines whether or not a case should be heard by the military and redefining who can convene a military trial. This bill has proven largely controversial, and as of January it looked as though she only has 53 votes on her side, with other Senators proving skeptical of interfering with the chain of command. A subcommittee recently released a report concluding that there was not enough evidence that this new proposed would help decrease the incidence of sexual assault, and many military leaders have spoken out against it.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has openly opposed Gillibrand’s bill and has introduced her own version, S. 1917 the Victims Protection Act. McCaskill’s bill does not remove cases from the chain of command, but instead focuses on other remedies. The bill includes increased commander accountability, allows survivors to challenge unfair military dismissals, stops soldiers from solely using good military character as a defense, and includes other resources to aid military sexual assault victims. Unlike Gillibrand’s bill, McCaskill’s has received bipartisan support and is expected to pass.