Violence Against Women

New California Law Takes Military Sexual Assault Cases Out of the Chain of Command

Last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a bill that would take military sexual assault cases out of military purview and instead assign them to civilian prosecutors in the state. The law also now requires the California Military Department to report annually to the state government on sexual assault incidences and prevention plans.

via Presidio of Monterey
Teal Ribbons commemorate sexual assault. via Presidio of Monterey

Prior to the passage of SB 1422, all investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault cases was done within the military chain of command and by military lawyers. Under the new legislation, only cases in which a civilian prosecutor refuses to see a case would involve military personnel.

Last year, the Pentagon released a report that revealed epidemic levels of sexual assault in the military, as well as a culture of silence in which victims rarely came forward to report the crimes. Although 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in the military in 2012 alone, the report found that just 3,374 cases were reported. This year, the Pentagon identified a 50 percent increase in reported cases, but only 10 percent went to trial. Advocates have urged military sexual assault cases be prosecuted outside of the chain-of-command to reduce retaliation against victims and increase reporting.

Since 2013, there has been a growing effort to curb sexual assault in the military, led largely by women in the Senate. In March, the Senate blocked the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would have removed all military sexual assault cases from the chain-of-command on a national level. Later that month, the Senate passed legislation eliminating the “good soldier defense” for accused perpetrators.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military,” California State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said in a statement. “While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California can lead by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system.”

President Obama, who signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 to prevent military sexual assault and strengthen protections for survivors, called for a review of the military’s progress to end the epidemic last December that should take place later this year.

Media Resources: RH Reality Check, 8/25/14; The New York Times, 5/1/2014; Feminist Majority Foundation, 6/5/13, 12/23/13, 1/2/14, 3/7/14, 3/11/14


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