On Dec. 1, 2014, defense and military leaders will be required to issue a full-scale report on progress made to eradicate military sexual assault, President Obama announced Friday.

Less than one year from now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will report on improvements to prevention and response of sexual assault in the military. Obama and his administration will consider “additional reforms” if they are not satisfied with the progress made in 2014, he said.

The White House and Pentagon also issued 16 executive provisions to combat sexual assault in the military. And the National Defense Authorization Act, passed Dec. 19, includes 37 important reforms. The most important reform to pass was that beginning in Feb. 2014, every victim who reports an assault will be immediately assigned a lawyer to assist her or him. Moreover, no commander will be able to overturn a guilty verdict in such high-level crimes.

The Senate is expected to vote on one potential improvement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), this January. The Act, which will take the decision of whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and give it to independent, objective, trained military prosecutors, was supposed to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, but will instead be voted on as a stand-alone measure.

Military sexual assault has reached epidemic proportions, many advocates for sexual assault in the military say. According to ThinkProgress, “few survivors will come forward to make charges, since victim and perpetrator usually fall under the same command, and perpetrators are often of a higher rank than their victims. A Pentagon report issued earlier this year estimated some 26,000 instances of ‘unwanted sexual contact’ perpetrated service members over a two-year period, but fewer than 3,400 were reported.”

Urge your senator to support Sen. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act today!

Media resources: RH Reality Check 12/17/13, 12/20/13; ThinkProgress 12/17/13, 12/20/2013; Gillibrand.senate.gov

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