Leading up to Congress’ first full hearing on military sexual assault in 10 years, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand renewed her demands for objectivity and accountability in the military’s prosecution of harassment.
The military needs to “create a system that has more transparency, more accountability and basic objectivity,” the New York Democrat said on Tuesday’s Morning Joe. “We have to make sure these perpetrators, these predators are taken out of our military.”
Military estimates of sexual assaults skyrocketed last year from 19,000 to 26,000, but just over 3,300 were reported to military authorities. Of those reported, even fewer resulted in convictions. Under military chain of command, the accused’s commander decides whether to send an accusation and case to trial and whether to approve or overturn a conviction.
“When a commander at the end of the day can unwind what an investigation has put forward or unwind what a jury has actually found, victims do not believe they can have any accountability or justice in the current system,” Gillibrand said.
Reporting is also a huge problem, because victims are “afraid to report because they’re concerned they’ll be retaliated against, or marginalized, or blamed,” Gillibrand said. “They don’t feel there is a system where they can get justice.”
Top military commanders want to keep the command chain as it is, Gillibrand said.
“That’s wrong, anything less will not result in a transparent, fair system where victims feel comfortable,” she said.
Gillibrand, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, introduced a bill to rework the Uniform Code of Military Justice as it pertains to serious crimes and sexual assault, by creating an justice process that removes those key decisions from commanders. Top military leaders are expected to address Gillibrand’s bill during a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel and other top military commanders have opposed reworking the Uniform Code of Military Justice, saying it threatens force unity and obedience, but Hagel does agree that commanders should not have the ability to overturn jury convictions of rapists.
Allies who have implemented similar efforts have seen success, Gillibrand said. Israel’s military courts made changes to their system, she said, and “when they started having high prosecutions, their reporting went up 80%.”
Improving prosecutions will improve reporting which will in turn, eventually, curb the epidemic as a whole, Gillibrand said.
“When people see results, you’ll start to transform the culture of not only academies, but the military itself. That is necessary. If we expect to have military readiness, if we expect our force to be ready for anything, we can not have men and women being attacked by their colleagues and their commanders.”