Senate To Debate Best Way To Handle Military Sexual Assault

REUTERS/Larry Downing

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Jacob Bojesson Foreign Correspondent
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A bipartisan group of senators announced the latest effort to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command.

The Military Justice Improvement Act is a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It is designed to move the decision of whether to prosecute cases of military sexual assault from the chain of command to an independent military prosecutor.

The amendment — introduced by New York Democratic Sen. [crscore]Kirsten Gillibrand[/crscore] and Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley — is expected to be debated Wednesday in the Senate.

“What upsets me the most is that the military has not created a justice system that is worthy of the support of men and women who will sacrifice their lives for this country,” Gillibrand said at a press conference Tuesday. “It is a system that is rife with bias, lack of transparency and no accountability.”

A recent Pentagon survey found 62 percent of women who reported being sexually assaulted experienced retaliation.

Out of 26,000 accusations of sexual conduct within the military, just about 3,000 are getting reported, according to Republican Sen. [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore] of Kentucky.

“Nobody should be forced to go to their boss to report a rape,” Paul said at the press conference. “They should go to the proper authorities.”

Gillibrand has narrowly failed to get enough votes to advance the act in the past. She believes a report released Monday, which claims the Pentagon fed misleading information to lawmakers in the past, will help the case this time around.

“I’ve made the attempt to talk to all the senators who voted against it the last time to give them new information,” Gillibrand said. “I think many senators we have spoken to are concerned.”

Opponents of the amendment have called for institutional change rather than congressional or executive action. During his last weeks as secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel urged President Barack Obama to keep sexual assault cases within the military command structure.

“I believe today as strongly as I did two years ago, and maybe more so, that you cannot take the responsibility and the accountability for this out of the chain of command,” Hagel said in January, 2015.

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