By Renee Botelho, SIECUS Intern
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) and Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) bills on sexual assault reform in the military moved to the Senate floor for voting in early March 2014. Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act(S. 1752), brought to a vote on March 6, 2014, fell five votes short of the 60 needed to pass. However, Senator McCaskill’s Victims Protection Act of 2014 (S. 1917) passed unanimously on March 10, 2014.
The Military Justice Improvement Act (S.1752) would have moved “the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, unless the crime is uniquely military in nature, such as going Absent Without Leave.” Additionally, S. 1752 would have provided offices of military chief of staffs with authority to establish courts and other actions to help set up an infrastructure which is better able to address victims of sexual assault. Of the two bills, this reform bill was more controversial as Pentagon leadership strongly believes in more officer responsibility and opposed the bill.
The Victims Protection Act of 2014 (S. 1917), served as stand-alone legislation, even though most of the reforms in it are covered under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which has been blocked in the Senate. The bill was introduced to ensure that essential reforms to sexual assault response in the military were passed. The bill has many components, including stripping military commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions and requiring a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case, among other provisions. The bill has been referred to three committees in the House, where future action is uncertain.
These Senators took a much needed step to address the issue of sexual assault in the military. While this is not a new issue (seen from the pledges of commanders dating back to then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992 of “zero tolerance”), the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) FY2012 report finds that sexual assault affects one in five female service members and half of all incidents are not reported because the victims think nothing would be done with their case. Additionally, 62 percent of victims reported that they perceived some form of retaliation from reporting the incident.
While there has been contention between the two Senators’ bills, Gillibrand supported McCaskill’s efforts as another step toward ensuring service men and women serving in our military have the best possible recourse when sexual assault does occur. In addition, President Obama has given the Pentagon until the end of the year to demonstrate improvements on combating sexual assault in the military. Due to this imposed timeline, Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act may be reintroduced next year if there are no evident changes made.
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Despite Setback, McCaskill Continues Fight to Enact Historic Reforms to Curb Sexual Assaults. November 26, 2013. Claire McCaskill, accessed on February 24, 2014 at http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=12028.
Ahead of Sexual Assault Vote Expected On Senate Floor Next Week, Bipartisan Group of Senators, Survivors, Advocates Continue Push for Independent Military Justice System. February 6, 2014. Kirsten Gillibrand, accessed on February 24, 2014 at http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/ahead-of-sexual-assault-vote-expected-on-senate-floor-next-week-bipartisan-group-of-senators-survivors-advocates-continue-push-for-independent-military-justice-system.
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