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Gillibrand: ‘Culture change’ needed to end military sexual assaults

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Sunday vowed to press her fight against military sexual assaults, saying a “culture change” is needed within the ranks to end the "crisis."

“What we have here is a crisis,” Gillibrand said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This is a cultural problem from top to bottom.”

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Gillibrand was joined by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) who are both pushing for legislation to better protect military victims who come forward and to change the way such crimes are prosecuted by the Pentagon.

“Until you have transparency, accountability and objectivity where the decision-maker of whether you’re going to trial or not is an objective prosecutor and not a commander, you’re not going to have the type of reporting – and frankly, justice – that we need in the system,” Gillibrand told CBS’ Bob Schieffer.

The Defense Department estimates there were 26,000 cases of “unwanted sexual contact” in the military last year – an increase from 2011’s estimate of 19,000 cases. Seventy percent of the 3,400 reports submitted last year dealt with sexual assaults or rapes.

Currently, victims must file complaints up the chain of military command. Lawmakers say the process creates a conflict of interest and deters service members from reporting the violence. 

“What victims tell us across the board is they are afraid to report [abuses] because of retaliation, they have seen other women being retaliated against or they thought they would be marginalized, their careers would be over or they would be blamed,” Gillibrand said.

Speier called commanders “enablers” for not cracking down on abuse.

“They're enablers because this has been a problem for 25 years,” Speier said. “And for 25 years, they've trotted up to Capitol Hill” and insisted there has been zero tolerance. “And it’s still happening.”

“Until there are more prosecutions and more convictions, this problem is not going to end,” she continued. 

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff about the rising number of rapes and reports of retaliation against victims.

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