By Robert Schlesinger |
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.
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:
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.
About Claire McCaskill
is a former sex crimes prosecutor and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.
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.