WATCH: Senator says commanders can’t differentiate ‘a slap on the ass and a rape’

Updated
By msnbc staff
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, speaks about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol...
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, speaks about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol...
Larry Downing/Reuters

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand lashed out at top military commanders during a hearing on sexual assault before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, arguing that prosecution of assault cases should be removed from the chain of command.

“While you are all so dedicated and determined, not all commanders are objective, not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force, not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is, not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all these crimes together,” Gillibrand said.

Top military brass, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress as focus the sexual assault epidemic in the military continues to gather momentum. A recent Pentagon report estimated that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted last year. Just under 3,000 of those cases were reported.

Military chiefs present at the hearing on Tuesday strongly condemned Gillibrand’s proposal to remove the authority of commanders to prosecute assault causes.

“As we consider further reforms, the role of the commander should remain central,” said Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey. “Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis.”

WATCH: Senator says commanders can't differentiate 'a slap on the ass and a rape'

Updated