Gillibrand reintroduces proposal to confront military sexual assault

Greg Nash

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Thursday reintroduced her bill to tackle military sexual assault.

Dubbed the Military Justice Improvement Act, the bill would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases away from military commanders and give it to independent military prosecutors.

{mosads}“Our nation’s military leaders have spent decades promising ‘zero tolerance’ on sexual assault, but it’s painfully clear that they’ve failed at that mission. The Pentagon, by its own admission, is out of time – and should now be out of excuses,” Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday. “For years, survivor after survivor has told us the change we need to make in the military justice system to end the scourge of sexual assault in our military – the same change that some of our allies all around the world have already made: move the decision to try these crimes outside of the chain of command to trained military prosecutors.”

Gillibrand has introduced the bill every year since 2013 as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The proposal has not been voted on in the last couple years amid broader disputes over which amendments get voted on for the NDAA. The last time the amendment got a vote in 2015 it did not reach the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

The Pentagon and other opponents of the proposal argue it would undermine the military justice system.

In her statement, Gillibrand slammed the “incremental reforms” the Pentagon has taken in past years, saying “they clearly haven’t worked.”

“Sexual assault is still pervasive – in fact the latest DoD numbers show that sexual assaults in the military have dramatically increased while the number of cases going to trial has gone down,” she said. “None of this is acceptable. It’s long past time for Congress to step up and create accountability where the DoD has failed.”

The Pentagon’s latest report on sexual assault showed the number of cases of unwanted sexual contact — a term that covers groping to rape — jumped to 20,500 in 2018 from 14,900 in 2016.

Gillibrand’s bill has 29 co-sponsors, including fellow Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

The bill also has a few Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.).

The Senate version of the NDAA already includes several provisions meant to tackle sexual assault, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the military justice system, requiring a new policy to “reinvigorate the prevention of sexual assault” and requiring commanders to be trained in all stages of military justice related to sexual assault.

The House Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, approved Wednesday an amendment to its version of the NDAA to create a pilot program for a chief prosecutor to make recommendations on prosecuting sexual assault at military service academies rather than commanders. 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Chuck Grassley Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Kirsten Gillibrand Michael Bennet Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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