Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-NY, re-introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act on Wednesday. The bipartisan bill would move the decision of whether to prosecute serious crimes in the military to independent prosecutors instead of chain-of-command, in an attempt to address sexual assault in the military.
“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,” Sen. Gillibrand was quoted as saying in a press release. “The Department of Defense has tried incremental reforms, but they clearly haven’t worked.”
The press release cites the Department of Defense’s report this year on sexual assault, there were an estimated 20,500 instances of sexual assault last year, while the number of cases that went to trial dropped from 588 in fiscal year 2014 to 307 in fiscal year 2018.
“None of this is acceptable,” Sen. Gillibrand was quoted as saying. “It’s long past time for Congress to step up and create accountability where the DoD has failed. That is how we will finally give our men and women in uniform a justice.” Under the new law, certain judicial advocates in the military of rank O-6, the equivalent of a colonel, or a captain in the Navy, would be granted the authority to send criminal charges to trial.
The bipartisan senators endorsing the legislation include Republican Chuck Grassley, Ted Cruz, and Lisa Murkowski, as well as fellow Democrats like Tammy Duckworth — herself a combat veteran and retired lieutenant colonel — and Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, among others.
Sen. Gillibrand has been an outspoken advocate on confronting sexual assault in the military. Last fall, after a report showed Fort Drum as having one of the highest rates of sexual assault, accounting for demographics, of any large Army installation, Sen. Gillibrand said she would work with the command to confront the problem.
“The Pentagon should have released this report much sooner, but now that they have finally made this important analysis public, they have an obligation to take these findings seriously and do everything they can to end sexual assault in our military,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a statement to the Times at the time. “The report showed that a number of large installations face a higher risk of sexual assault, and I will continue to work with Fort Drum leadership on eradicating the risk of sexual assault and harassment among their population.”
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