Tea Party GOPs Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have signed on to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) effort to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.
The measure to create an independent system to review and decide whether to bring charges in such cases has been tweaked and honed among a coalition of senators for much of this Congress. The Military Justice Improvement Act moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent military prosecutors, with the exception of 37 crimes deemed “uniquely military in nature,” such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave.
Other proponents of the bill are Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
Advocates point to Pentagon estimates that 25 percent of women and 27 percent of women who reported unwanted sexual contact reported the abuser to be someone in their chain of command.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, citing Defense Department concerns about Congress wading into the command structure, stripped similar language from the National Defense Authorization Act in June, but supporters intend to bring it up as an amendment when the defense reauthorization comes to the floor before August recess.
“The vast majority of our service members are honorable and upstanding individuals. In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted properly,” said Paul.
“Despite good-faith efforts from the chain of command, sexual assault remains a persistent problem. We must act to ensure that assaults are prevented and victims of assault are able to report any crimes that occur. Senator Gillibrand should be commended for her leadership working to modernize our military justice system to protect our men and women from sexual assault, and this amendment makes real progress in that regard,” Cruz said.
“Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen marked improvement,” he added. “I support this amendment and believe it will improve readiness and capability so that the United States military remains the greatest fighting force in the world.”
A Defense Department report on sexual assault in the military found half of female victims stating they didn’t report the crime because they felt nothing would be done about it by their commanders.
An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in fiscal year 2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011.
Seventy-four percent of females and 60 percent of males perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault, according to the report. Sixty-two percent of victims who reported a sexual assault indicated they perceived some form of retaliation.
The only other Republican co-sponsor on Gillibrand’s bill is Mike Johanns (Neb.).
“I try not to look at issues from a partisan point of view. I’m sure I do sometimes, but I try not to. As a physician, I look at problems and try to find solutions,” Paul said at a press conference this morning.
“The only thing I think standing in the way is just sort of the status quo,” he added. “Senator Boxer was right. Everyone says they are against sexual assault, and if it appears that there is some sort of deterrence from victims reporting the crime, why don’t we fix it? I don’t see why we wouldn’t fix it and I am happy to be a part of the process.”
Cruz said he was” persuaded by Senator Gillibrand’s exceptionally passionate and able advocacy.”
“Now, every senator is opposed to rape, opposed to sexual assault, and wants to act to prevent it. And I’ll tell you, having spoken with a number of our commanders, I’m convinced that our commanders in the military want to see this problem go away, that they understand, they have heard the message, and they are working to make it go away,” Cruz said.
“But unfortunately, this problem has persisted. Despite good-faith repeated efforts, this problem has persisted.”