On the Hill Violence Against Women

Military Sexual Assault Bill Gains Bipartisan Support in the Senate

A new bill that would change the way sexual assault cases are handled in the military is gaining bipartisan support in the Senate and could soon become law.

The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act was introduced last month by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and would “professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate,” according to a press release from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office.

Sexual assault and harassment is a prevalent issue in the military. Senator Gillibrand highlights the case of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered at Fort Hood in Texas by a male soldier after reportedly experiencing sexual harassment. A report from the Department of Defense found that 21,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2018, or one in every 16 female service members.

“Sexual assault in our military is an epidemic and it’s clear that the current system is not working for survivors. Despite repeated efforts to protect our women and men in uniform rates of harassment and assault continue to rise while prosecutions decline. Congress has a solemn responsibility to protect our service members, and right now we have more work to do,” said Senator Gillibrand when the legislation was introduced. “The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act takes important, commonsense steps to deliver justice for survivors of serious crimes and prevent sexual assault in our armed forces. I am proud to introduce this new, bipartisan legislation and I thank all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for being my partners in this fight. With strong support in Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House this is a defining moment for passage and I’m confident we can get it done.”

The legislation is being championed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) who went on “Face the Nation” Sunday to promote the bill and discuss the bipartisan effort to pass it in the Senate.

“We want Americans to see that bipartisanship is alive and well,” said Ernst. “It takes friendships. It takes a lot of discussions and certainly a partnership and finding compromise through that collaboration. This is what the rest of the Congress should be doing at a time like this too.”

The bill currently has 61 cosponsors in the Senate, enough to overcome the filibuster which is preventing the passage of progressive legislation related to voting rights, reproductive healthcare, climate change, and gun reform among other issues.

“The military has failed to address the sexual assault crisis, letting victims down and harming our military’s readiness, recruitment and retention efforts. Unfortunately, far too many of our men and women in uniform do not trust they’ll get the justice they deserve if they pursue it through the current system,” Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said. “As a former commander of an assault helicopter company, it’s become clear to me that we need to pass meaningful reforms to hold more perpetrators accountable and ensure survivors have the resources and support they need to heal and be able to resume the careers they dreamt about from the time they entered the military.”

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