Should Military Sexual Assaults Be Dealt With By Commanders?

A bipartisan proposal would move prosecutions to an independent group outside the chain of command.

By + More

Tea Party Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have joined Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in support of a bill that would combat sexual assault in the military by removing prosecution of such cases from the military chain of command. The two senators could be key in attracting conservative support to the proposal, which was rejected by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month.

Under the Military Justice Improvement Act, independent professional military prosecutors would decide whether or not to pursue allegations of sexual assault. Gillibrand said that with an estimated 26,000 cases of "unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault" in fiscal year 2012, this approach would protect victims who fear repercussions by reporting incidents to their superiors:

What our strong and growing bipartisan coalition has shown is that ending sexual assaults in the military by creating an independent and accountable military justice system is not a partisan or ideological issue. Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the right idea.

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

Paul said he was concerned about inserting too many lawyers into military life, but that justice requires due process for all victims of crime. He said the bipartisan bill addresses issues that were of concern to members of both parties.

"I think this is a great example of how people from both sides come together to work on a problem and look honestly at what a problem is," Paul said. "Everyone says they are against sexual assault, and if it appears that there is some sort of deterrence from victims reporting the crime, why don't we fix it? I don't see why we wouldn't fix it and I am happy to be a part of the process."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But not all senators are on board with the proposal, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. Levin and the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly opposed the bill in June, arguing that it would meddle with the chain of command and damage unit cohesion if top military commanders were not in charge of sexual assault cases.

The bill will be offered on the Senate floor as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to be introduced this summer.

What do you think? Should sexual assault be dealt with outside the chain of military command? Take the poll and comment below.

This poll is now closed, but the debate continues in the comments section.