Defense

GOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault

Greg Nash

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) will lead a House effort to revamp how the military handles sexual assault in the ranks, the lawmaker announced Friday.

Turner, a senior member on the House Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce the legislation along with a Democratic co-sponsor. The bill will be a companion measure to the bipartisan Senate bill known as the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA).

The bill would remove decisions about whether to prosecute sexual assault and several other serious crimes from the hands of military commanders, giving them instead to specially trained military prosecutors.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) co-sponsored the bill, which also includes several prevention efforts, including better training for commanders and military prosecutors and increased physical security measures.

Turner, a co-chairman of the House sexual assault prevention caucus, has previously opposed several past versions of the bill. But his support for this iteration is likely to compel other House Republicans to back the measure and advance the legislation after years of resistance.

“When we ask our men and women in uniform to put their lives on the line for our country, they shouldn’t also fear becoming a victim of sexual assault. We owe them more,” Turner said in a statement. “What Senator Gillibrand has accomplished is unusual in Washington – true bipartisan, bicameral legislation … [which] would take a pivotal step in the long fight for military justice reform.”

“MJIIPA strikes a critical balance so that high-level felony cases are fairly prosecuted, offenders are held accountable, and victims are protected while providing commanders the additional tools necessary to retain control over their units and focus on mission success,” Turner added.

The Defense Department has grappled with a high number of sexual assault reports across the military, despite years of efforts and programs to address the problem. In 2020 — despite a worldwide pandemic that limited troop movement and interaction — sexual assault reports rose by about 1 percent compared to 2019.

Gillibrand has tried for eight years to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether to send sexual assault cases to trial, but Pentagon officials routinely pushed back, arguing it would cause a breakdown in unit cohesion.

But with 61 Republican and Democratic senators now backing her bill as of Thursday, plus Turner’s support in the House, it appears she may finally see her efforts pay off.

“Congressman Turner is a longtime leader in the fight to combat sexual assault in the military and has a proven record of enacting legislation to deliver justice for survivors,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “This is a truly bipartisan bill and it’s time to get this done.”

Turner’s announcement comes a day after Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) reintroduced a similar bill in the House, known as the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act, named in honor of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was killed by another soldier at Fort Hood, Texas.

That bill also would take the decision on sexual assault and harassment charges from commanders, as well as make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, create a confidential system to report sexual harassment and require the Government Accountability Office to study how different military branches handle missing service members.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) both back Speier’s legislation.

Tags Adam Smith Jackie Speier Joni Ernst Kirsten Gillibrand Mike Turner Military sexual asasult Nancy Pelosi

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