Senator Collins Speaks Out Against Military Sexual Assault Cases

The U.S. military is again in the spotlight after two high-profile sexual assault cases received lenient rulings on Thursday. Mainstream Republican Senator Susan Collins has been fighting sexual assault in the military for decades, and spoke out this week in an opinion editorial in the Portland Press Herald about the need for reform.

Army Brig. General Jeffrey Sinclair pleaded guilty to charges of adultery and ‘mistreating’ an Army captain he was accused of sexually assaulting. The charges against him of sexual assault and sodomy were dropped in a deal that got him a reprimand and a fine of $20,000 plus pay restitution of $4,157 related to travel fraud charges. He received no jail time. Outrage increased when, later the same day, a Navy judge found Naval Academy football player Joshua Tate not guilty of sexual assault.

Senator Collins had this to say, “Unfortunately, these are just the latest examples of a sexual assault crisis in our nation’s military. According to a Pentagon report, nearly 3,200 cases of sexual assault in the military were reported in 2012, yet the true number may be six times higher. As many as one in three women leaving military service report that they experienced some form of sexual trauma while serving. And while 40 percent of sexual assault allegations in civilian life are prosecuted, the number in the military is an appallingly low 8 percent.”

These cases come at a time when two bills are making their way through congress to address charges that the military has poorly handled sex crimes and harassment against women within its ranks. S.1752 the Military Justice Improvements Act, is the more far-reaching of the two, but was stalled by a Senate filibuster earlier in the month despite bipartisan support. Senator Susan Collins is the lead Republican Sponsor of this bill. The main feature of this bill is that it would alter the command structure, taking sexual abuse cases out of the military’s chain of command.  “This bill is a reasonable proposal designed to communicate to survivors and potential perpetrators alike that when survivors are subjected to these unacceptable crimes, they will have access to a legal system that fully protects their interests as much as the military’s” said Collins.

S. 1917 the Victims Protection Act 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. Senator Gillibrand, the lead sponsor of the Military Justice Improvements Act s aid these cases provide fresh evidence to support the passing of the bill. However others have said the Sinclair case highlights problems with S.1752, which would allow military prosecutors to decide what cases to take and that commanders are more inclined to move forward on sexual abuse cases, pointing to the Sinclair case.

Read Collin’s full piece here.

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