“With all due respect to our military leadership structure, as long as the traditional chain of command remains the only path to justice, sexual assault victims risk not being well-served.”
The measure, included in the Democrats’ motion to recommit, was defeated on the floor.
The Democratic motion was similar to — though not as sweeping as — as legislation from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has proposed to give military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other major criminal cases.
Gillibrand is pushing to pass her amendment on the Senate’s Defense authorization bill, and has gained the support of 46 senators. But even if she is successful, it will be an uphill battle to include it in the conference committee’s final bill amid opposition in the Republican-controlled house.
The Pentagon, which is opposed to Gillibrand’s measure, unveiled a half-dozen new initiatives on Thursday to try to curb sexual assault in its ranks. The new measures included expanding a victims’ advocate program, making it easier to move accused service members out of units and giving victims a role in the sentencing phase of a trial.
The new steps were taken this week as Congress is gearing up to pass numerous changes to the way the military prosecutes sexual assault and cares for victims, no matter the outcome of Gillibrand's bill. The proposals are being considered amid bipartisan outrage over a report estimating there were 26,000 assaults in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010.
Like Pelosi, Gillibrand said that the Pentagon's measures were positive, but not “the leap forward required to solve the problem.”