U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, alongside U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) introduced new bipartisan legislation, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.
The military justice reform bill would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate.
Before veteran survivors of sexual assault and advocates for military justice reform, Sen. Gillibrand, told reporters during a press conference in Washington, D.C., that the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act takes a commonsense approach to delivering justice to survivors of serious crimes and preventing sexual assault within the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Sexual assault in our military is an epidemic. It has been for a very long time,” Gillibrand said. “It’s clear that this system is not working. We can’t have good order and discipline when crimes like these are occurring within our ranks and when the culture on base is one not of justice but of retaliation.”
Senator Gillibrand first introduced the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013 and for years, has worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Senator Chuck Grassley to pass it. However, since the initial introduction, unrestricted reports of sexual assaults in the military have doubled, yet the rate of prosecution and conviction has been halved.
One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, the most recent year data has been published by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD data also show there were nearly 21,000 instances of sexual assault — a massive increase over the 14,900 estimated in the previous 2016 survey. The number of women in the military who experienced sexual assault increased by 50%, from 8,600 in FY2016 to 13,000 in FY2018.
The bill was announced as the Pentagon conducts a 90-day examination of sexual assault in the military by an independent review commission, which Secretary of Defense Austin announced on Feb. 26, saying sexual assault and harassment “remain persistent and corrosive problems across the total force.”
“As a former commander of an assault helicopter company, it’s become clear to me that we need to pass meaningful reforms to hold more perpetrators accountable and ensure survivors have the resources and support they need to heal and be able to resume the careers they dreamt about from the time they entered the military,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
“I’m proud to join Senators Gillibrand and Ernst in introducing this bipartisan bill, which would help deliver justice to survivors—without sacrificing military commanders’ abilities to maintain discipline within their unit at home or while deployed—while also helping to prevent these despicable crimes from occurring in the first place.”