By Meghashyam Mali - 05/16/13 12:33 PM EDT
“What we need to do is change the system so victims know they can receive justice,” she continued. “What we’ve heard from the victims is they fear retaliation, they fear they’ll be marginalized, their careers will be over or they’ll be blamed themselves. We need to create a culture where they can actually report these crimes and have these crimes be investigated and prosecuted.
“We believe we have to take this out of the chain of command,” Gillibrand said, calling for such cases to be handled by “trained prosecutors who understand sexual assault within the military.”
The army said earlier this week that it was investigating a sergeant charged with handling sexual abuse cases in Fort Hood, Texas. Reports say the sergeant, who has not been charged with a crime, is being investigated for sexually assaulting another service member and for allegedly running a prostitution ring.
The Pentagon earlier this month released a report that found the number of estimated sexual assaults has risen by more than a third in the last two years.
President Obama called the problem an “outrage” and has vowed to “step up our game” and work to combat sexual assault in the military.
On Thursday, Obama will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to discuss the issue.
But the military’s top brass and Hagel have opposed calls from Gillibrand to remove sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command, setting the stage for a fight with Congress.
Gillibrand on Thursday said the focus should be on the victims of sexual assault and creating a climate where they could come forward.
“What we do know is that if we begin to create accountability and transparency in the system, where victims see that justice is possible you’ll have greater reporting, when you have greater reporting you’ll have more investigations, more trials and more convictions,” she said.
“As they see justice being done, things will change,” Gillibrand added.