Today, lawmakers in Congress introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act in the US House of Representatives and Senate. The Military Justice Improvement Act seeks to reform the current system of prosecution in the United States military.
17 members of Congress joined together in a press conference today to reveal the bipartisan legislation to reform the military justice system, including for cases involving allegations of sexual assault. The Military Justice Improvement Act would take any offense punishable by one or more years in confinement out of the chain of command except for charges directly related to the military (Absent Without Leave and disobeying orders). Instead, experienced military prosecutors would determine if the case required special or general court-martial. The bill would also prohibit convening authority from being used to overturn a guilty conviction or change a conviction to a lesser offense and requires written justification for any changes.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the bill’s chief sponsor, said “America is home to the world’s best and brightest, brave men and women who join the armed services for all the right reasons – to serve our country, defend all that we hold sacred, and make America’s military the best the world has ever known. But too often, these brave men and women find themselves in the fight of their lives not off on some far-away battlefield, but right here on our own soil, within their own ranks and commanding officers, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence. Our bipartisan bill takes this issue head on by removing decision-making from the chain of command, and giving that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience where it belongs. That’s how we will achieve accountability, justice and fairness.”
Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) reintroduced legislation last month specifically focused on reforming the military sexual assault response program. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) would take sexual assault cases out of the hands of chains of command and place it under the jurisdiction of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office which will be comprised of civilian and military personnel. The STOP Act would also limit convening authority in cases of sexual assault.
This new legislation follows the case of an Army Sergeant 1st Class Sexual Harassment/Assault Result Prevention (SHARP) Coordinator and Equal Opportunity Advisor at Fort Hood in Texas who is being investigated for sexual assault. US Army Criminal Investigation Command is handling the investigation and the sergeant has been removed from all duties. According to a statement released by the Department of Defense (DoD) the service member in question is being investigated for allegations of “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.”
Two weeks earlier, an Air Force chief of sexual assault prevention and response was arrested on charges of sexual battery. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Krusinski groped a woman in a parking lot. She fought him off when he attempted to grab her again and immediately alerted the police. An anonymous spokesperson for the Air Force confirmed that Krusinski had been dismissed from his post in response to the allegations. Later that week, the Department of Defense issued an annual report that showed that sexual assault in the military rose by 35% from 2010 to 2012. The report found that 26,000 members of the military experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012 when answering an anonymous survey – a rate of approximately 70 assaults a day.