Protect Our Defenders, a victims’ advocacy group, targeted McCaskill this week for her opposition to Gillibrand’s bill. The group accused her of “protecting the status quo” and published an advertisement in McCaskill’s home state paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where a sexual assault victim urged her to change her position.
“The notion that I would ever be a roadblock to more effective prosecutions is enough to give me a stomachache,” McCaskill said Thursday.
“I think anybody who knows my record, knows I’ve been working at this for years,” she added. “No one in the Senate has cried with more victims of sexual assault than I have. No one has looked more juries in the eye and said, put this man in prison for as long as the law has allowed. No one has had more experience with these kinds of crimes than I have.”
Gillibrand has been gaining support for her measure after it was defeated in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and she has 44 senators who are either co-sponsors or have expressed public support. She plans to offer it as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill.
Her legislation would take the decision to prosecute felony crimes that aren’t military-specific offenses away from commanders, putting it in the hands of military prosecutors.
In response, McCaskill and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have stepped up their efforts this week to publicly explain why they oppose her bill.
McCaskill emphasized the similarities that she shares with Gillibrand on sexual assault on Thursday. She said they were “joined at the hip” on all the reforms but the chain of command issue, and her office released a Venn diagram Thursday listing the common ideas in each proposal.
McCaskill, Levin and other opponents of Gillibrand’s bill argue that removing cases from the chain of command will prevent commanders from being held accountable and having the necessary tools to change the military’s culture to reduce the number of assaults.
Gillibrand and her supporters say that commanders have long failed to curb sexual assault, and victims aren’t reporting their crimes for fear of retaliation.