Gillibrand reintroduces military justice reform bill for fifth time
By BRIAN MOLONGOSKI | Watertown Daily Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 18, 2017
U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has reintroduced the Military Justice Improvement Act, which would allow military prosecutors to handle sexual assault cases instead of the chain of command.
Several senators from both parties, survivors and advocates threw their support behind the bill. But the senator's push to pass the legislation has been unsuccessful in multiple years, despite bipartisan support and expanded lobbying.
The bill has been brought to vote on the Senate floor twice, winning a bipartisan majority vote both times but failing to clear a filibuster.
Last year, the bill was removed from the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate without any debate.
"How much longer do we need to wait for Congress to do the right thing when the facts about sexual assault in the military remain the same?" Sen. Gillibrand said in a statement. "It is unacceptable that Congress has allowed this utter lack of accountability and transparency to continue. The Military Justice Improvement Act would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes like sexual assault and remove the systemic fear that survivors of military sexual assault describe in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them."
The legislation specifically would require cases to be pursued by military lawyers with extensive criminal justice experience. These lawyers must also be outside the chain of command
The U.S. Department of Defense has reported that, in 2016, a record number of sexual assaults were reported against service members, but the conviction fate for assailants was only 9 percent.
Additionally, according to a recent Pentagon survey, six out of 10 survivors say they have experienced retaliation for reporting sexual assault crimes.
"I urge all of my colleagues who want to do something to combat sexual violence in our society to join me in cosponsoring this bipartisan bill to create a justice system worthy of the sacrifice of our service members," Sen. Gillibrand continued. "To do less is to knowingly perpetuate a failed system."
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