By Teresa Welsh |
Congress is considering multiple measures to address sexual assault in the military, a complicated problem that has long plagued American defense forces.
A report released by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office of the Defense Department estimated that in fiscal year 2012 there were 26,000 unreported cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military. This marks a 37 percent increase in unreported cases from fiscal year 2011 and greatly exceeds the 3,374 reported cases in fiscal year 2012.
New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act would remove from the chain of command the decision to prosecute crimes that are punishable by more than one year. Instead, trained military prosecutors would be in charge of deciding how to proceed with cases. Only 37 serious crimes that only apply to the military would be exempt from this change.
Proponents of the bill argue that victims are hesitant to come forward because the perpetrators can be superiors. They also say there is a disturbing trend of commanders declining to prosecute cases of sexual assault.
“The men and women of our military deserve better,” said Gillibrand, chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services personnel committee. “They deserve to have unbiased, trained military prosecutors reviewing their cases, and making decisions based solely on the merits of the evidence in a transparent way.”
The Pentagon report found that 25 percent of women who reported being assaulted in 2011 and 27 percent of men who did so said that they had been victimized by someone in their chain of command.
Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill says the Military Justice Improvement Act doesn’t go far enough to protect service members. She proposes stripping commanders of the ability to overturn jury convictions, imposing civilian review of decisions not to prosecute cases and providing victims with independent legal counsel.
Military officials however, have been vocal about any proposal that would take prosecutions outside the military chain of command. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that removing commanders from proceedings is not an appropriate solution to the problem.
“The commander’s ability to preserve good order and discipline remains essential to accomplishing any change within our profession," Dempsey said. “Reducing command responsibility could adversely affect the ability of the commander to enforce professional standards and ultimately, to accomplish the mission.”
So is Gillibrand right on how to address sexual assault in the military? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
is a senator from New York and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
is a third year student at Yale Law School and a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.
is a retired lieutenant, helicopter pilot and U.S. Navy Member, and serves on the Board of Directors of Protect Our Defenders.
is the Service Women’s Action Network’s senior policy fellow and served as Commanding Officer of the Naval Telecommunications Station, Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory.
is a psychiatrist and cofounder of Threshold GlobalWorks.
is the second ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and founder and cochair of the Women in the Military Caucus.
is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.