Gillibrand: Military sexual assault ‘as pervasive as ever’

Greg Nash

Sexual assault in the military remains “as pervasive as ever” despite “incremental” reforms passed by Congress in recent years, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a report released Thursday.

“After reviewing yet another year’s worth of sexual assault case files at four of the biggest military bases in the country, I was appalled to see that sexual assault in our military is still as pervasive as ever: levels of civilian survivors remain high, overall prosecution rates of military sexual assault cases remain flat, and my office received no retaliation cases from the DoD despite six out of 10 survivors reporting that they had been retaliated against last year,” Gillibrand said in a statement accompanying the report.

Gillibrand released her third annual report on sexual assault in the military the week before the Senate is expected to take up the annual defense policy bill. The senator, a member of the Armed Services Committee, hopes to get her proposed reforms to the military justice system attached to the bill.

{mosads}This year’s report is based on internal legal documents of 238 sexual assault cases adjudicated in 2015 at Fort Hood, Texas; Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Camp Pendleton, California; and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. That’s down from 329 cases in 2014, but up from 107 in 2013.

Of the 2015 cases, 23 percent went to trial, and 13 percent of those were convicted of a sexual assault.

Gillibrand also wrote that the there were “shockingly” no examples of disciplinary action against anyone who retaliated against someone who reported a sexual assault. That’s despite Pentagon statistics saying that six in 10 sexual assault victims experience some form of retaliation.

The Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assault, released in May, found that 6,172 sexual assault reports were filed in 2016, up from 6,083 the previous year. An anonymous survey done as part of the report found that about 14,900 respondents experienced sexual assault, down from 20,300 in 2014.

Gillibrand’s report said the Pentagon’s statistics undercount the issue because they do not include victims who are civilians, non-military spouses of service members and minors. Of the cases she examined, 35 percent fell into those categories, according to the report.

“These latest statistics are disturbing and they do not reflect the good order and discipline that is essential for our military to perform at its highest level, despite dozens of small-scale reforms passed by Congress, continued high-profile exposure in the media, and repeated claims by military leadership of zero tolerance for sexual assault,” Gillibrand said in her statement. “Congress should immediately pass my bipartisan bill to fix our broken military justice system, the Military Justice Improvement Act, so that our service members can finally have access to a justice system that is professional and fair.”

Gillibrand has tried for years to attach an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would take away from military commanders the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other serious crimes, and give that authority to independent military prosecutors.

In 2014 and 2015, the measure failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to pass, and last year, the amendment did not receive a vote.

The proposal is opposed by the Pentagon and some lawmakers from both parties. Opponents argue that commanders are essential to maintaining good order and discipline and that removing them from the process would undermine that.

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