Gillibrand: Military has ‘zero accountability’ for assaults

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made her pitch Wednesday on the Senate floor for her military sexual assault amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

S. 1197 authorizes more than $625 billion in defense spending for the Pentagon. Some protections for victims of sexual assault were included during committee markup of the NDAA, such as providing a lawyer for victims and criminalizing retaliation against victims who report assaults. But Gillibrand and most of the other female senators have said the underlying bill doesn’t go far enough.

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Gillibrand’s amendment would take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. 

“Victims feel they will not get justice,” Gillibrand said on the Senate floor. “If you don’t create a transparent, accountable system outside of the chain of command, your hope of victims reporting … it’s not there; the hope is not there.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and most Republicans on the committee oppose Gillibrand’s amendment.

The Pentagon has estimated that there were 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military last year. Of those sexual assaults, only 3,000 were reported, and 302 were prosecuted. Gillibrand said that’s because there is “zero accountability”

“The current system based around the chain of command is producing horrible result,” Gillibrand said. “What we truly have is zero accountability.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who came out in support of Gillibrand's provision on Tuesday — said he hoped to have votes on Gillibrand's amendment and a side-by-side amendment later Wednesday.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have an alternative amendment that would strengthen sexual assault prevention activities within the Defense Department, including eliminating the “good soldier” defense.

“No one is going to be able to turn a victim away from her day in justice without accountability and oversight,” McCaskill said Wednesday. “And now retaliation is a crime, and the commander is going to be evaluated on how they handle this situation in their unit.”

Both amendments are expected to need 60 votes to be adopted. Gillibrand has bipartisan support from only 50 senators.

Gillibrand said she’d vote for McCaskill’s amendment but that she didn’t think the amendment and provisions in the underlying bill went far enough “to truly ensure justice for victims of sexual assault.”

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