Debate Club

Sen. McCaskill: In Curbing Sexual Assaults, the Policy Matters

By + More

When President Obama signed the annual defense bill several weeks ago, the reforms that became law to curb sexual assaults in the military were nothing short of historic. 

What did change look like? Commanders stripped of the ability to overturn convictions, civilian review required if a commander declines to prosecute, victims automatically assigned their own independent lawyers, dishonorable discharge mandated for those convicted, retaliation against victims criminalized and the pre-trial “Article-32” process reformed.

But we’re not stopping there. I’ve joined with Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Deb Fischer, R-NE, on legislation to strengthen these already historic reforms by eliminating the "good soldier" defense and allowing victims input in whether their case goes to military or civilian court.

[See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

For me, this effort is personal. Before joining the Senate, I spent years in Kansas City courtrooms prosecuting rape cases. In this debate, I've used a single yardstick to measure each idea: Will it better protect victims, and lead to more prosecutions? By that measurement, an alternative approach from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. — which would strip commanders of the ability to launch courts-martial — falls short. Here’s why:

  • It would leave victims behind. Over the past two years, there have been at least 93 cases in which prosecutors declined to pursue charges, but in which commanders launched a court-martial. That's 93 victims who would never have had their day in court if commanders lost the ability to bring cases forward.
  • It hasn't worked where it's been tried. Supporters of this alternative cite a number of American allies that have moved to similar systems. But not one of these countries has seen the increase in reporting that proponents promise. In fact, many allies changed their systems to better protect the accused.
  • It would raise the likelihood of retaliation against victims. If a victim of a sexual assault is agonizing over whether to report, the foremost worry is likely the likelihood of retaliation by fellow servicemembers. But what system offers more protection, one in which the commander signs off on a case, or one in which outside lawyers, possibly hundreds of miles away from the unit, do so? Stripping commanders of the ability to move cases forward removes a key tool for protecting victims.

[See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Others also recognize the risks posed by the Gillibrand alternative. An independent panel of policy experts created by Congress — majority-civilian and majority-women — recently undertook the first comprehensive analysis of the proposal, considering testimony from more than 150 witnesses and voted decisively to reject the bill. Panel members included Mai Fernandez of the Center for Victims of Crime, former Federal District Judge Barbara Jones, whose judicial opinion struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and former Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, author of the Rape Shield law.

They know what I do — reform to the military justice system must be evidence-based and grounded in data. We must thoughtfully build the strongest reforms to protect and empower victims, crack down on commanders' ability to abuse their authority and retain commanders' ability to do it right.

The policy matters.

Claire McCaskill

About Claire McCaskill is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

Tags
military
Congress
sexual assault

Other Arguments

#1
331 Pts
Sen. Gillibrand: The Deck Is Stacked Against Sexual Assault Victims

Yes – Sen. Gillibrand: The Deck Is Stacked Against Sexual Assault Victims

Kirsten Gillibrand is a senator from New York and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

#2
230 Pts
The Gillibrand Bill Will Allow Assault Victims to Come Forward

Yes – The Gillibrand Bill Will Allow Assault Victims to Come Forward

Chelsea Kelly is a third year student at Yale Law School and a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

#3
218 Pts
Sexual Assault Victims Have Waited Too Long for Justice

Yes – Sexual Assault Victims Have Waited Too Long for Justice

Paula Coughlin is a retired lieutenant, helicopter pilot and U.S. Navy Member, and serves on the Board of Directors of Protect Our Defenders.

#4
182 Pts
Give Members of the Military Access to the Justice They Deserve

Yes – Give Members of the Military Access to the Justice They Deserve

Lory Manning 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. 

#5
169 Pts
The Military Can Handle a Change in Sexual Assault Protocol

Yes – The Military Can Handle a Change in Sexual Assault Protocol

Loree Sutton is a psychiatrist and cofounder of Threshold GlobalWorks.

#6
-106 Pts
Rep. Loretta Sanchez: Hold Commanders Accountable for Sexual Assaults

No – Rep. Loretta Sanchez: Hold Commanders Accountable for Sexual Assaults

Loretta Sanchez  is the second ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and founder and cochair of the Women in the Military Caucus.

#7
-145 Pts
Removing Commanders From the Justice Process Is Too Extreme

No – Removing Commanders From the Justice Process Is Too Extreme

Mai Fernandez is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

You Might Also Like


See More