Gillibrand: Some can’t distinguish between a ‘slap on the ass and a rape’

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said some military commanders can’t “distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.”

Gillibrand made the comment during a hearing where military leaders made public their opposition to Gillibrand's legislation that would strip commanders of the power to decide where sexual assaults are prosecuted. 

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The New York senator wants prosecutors to decide where such crimes are tried, not commanders.

“While you are all so dedicated and determined, not all commanders are objective,” Gillibrand said. “Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.”

Gillibrand argued that sexual assault victims are afraid to report the crimes out of fear of retaliation from their commanders.

“You have lost the trust of the men and women who rely on you that you will actually bring justice in these cases,” Gillibrand said. “They’re afraid to report. They think their careers will be over. They fear retaliation. They fear being blamed.”


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Her bill was the primary topic at Tuesday’s hearing, where the chief Joint Chiefs and the services' top lawyers testified on seven bills the committee is considering to curb the problem of military sexual assault.

There has been a major push in Congress to reform sexual assault policies on the heels of a Pentagon report estimating 26,000 assaults last year, an increase of one-third from 2010.

Gillibrand’s bill has gained 19 co-sponsors, including four Republicans, but it faces an uphill climb in the Senate Armed Services Committee.


The Joint Chiefs expressed uniform opposition to removing cases from the chain of command, warning it would undermine commanders’ authority to maintain good order and discipline.

“Making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work. It will undermine the readiness of the force,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said. “Most importantly, it will hamper the timely delivery of justice to the very people we wish to help.”