Military members around the country are watching today as the U.S. Senate takes up legislation aimed at curbing military sexual assault cases. The controversial bill would remove the chain of command in the legal system in such cases.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, filed the bill to change the way the military investigates sexual assault. The bill removes commanders from the decisions on whether sexual assault cases should be investigated and prosecuted. The companion legislation did not make it to committee in the House.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco, who visited Lackland at the height of the sexual assault investigation, said of the 60-plus victims of sexual assault, the number reporting to their commanders was zero.
"The only way this has ever seen the light of day was when two MTIs (military training instructors) had had enough and took it to the chain of command and the chain of command said, 'You know, he's such a good guy, that couldn't possibly be true.' And was about to dismiss it. It wasn't until a third MTI went out of the chain of command to the chaplain and reported it. Then they thought, 'Well, maybe we should look into this.'" Speier said.
Chuck Parrish of Protect Our Defenders, a non-profit organization formed to advocate for military sexual assault victims who feared reprisal for reporting sex crimes, said 26,000 service members are attacked every year at a rate that is five times that of civilian offenses.
Parrish said he believes Congress must intervene and mandate a professional, unbiased justice system in the military.
"And this is in an environment where the military should be more disciplined not less disciplined. This just cannot be allowed to continue," Parrish said. "The military has been giving this lip service for over 25 years and they're not going to solve the problem on their own. The Congress has to act."
Speier said she supports Gillibrand’s legislation, but believes revisions to the NDAA need to go farther.
"The one thing we did insert into the National Defense Authorization Act is a provision whereby there would be an automatic dishonorable discharge for any MTI who had sex with a trainee," Speier said.
Gillibrand said earlier this week she was confident of getting the required 60 votes on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw his support behind the bill Tuesday.
A Washington Post-ABC poll showed 60 percent of the American public favors giving military prosecutors, rather than commanders, the power to decide which cases to try.