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Lawmaker stresses military accountability: I was 'sexually assaulted'

One day after Democratic Sen.

One day after Democratic Sen. Carl Levin nixed an amendment that would have removed major military crimes from the chain of command, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee said that she supported Levin’s controversial decision—both as a lawmaker, and as a victim of sexual assault.

“These commanders must be held accountable, and when you take it out from under them, they’ll say, ‘Hey, go talk to the Pentagon, it’s not my problem anymore,’” said Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California on msnbc Thursday. Sanchez, who founded and chairs the Women in the Military Caucus, introduced legislation in the House aimed at curbing sexual assaults in the armed forces.

Sanchez said she was approached by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to support her amendment removing sexual assault cases from the hands of military commanders. But, Sanchez said, she objected to the Gillibrand amendment because of its sweeping costs and prosecutorial overhaul that distracted from the type of reform the military really needs—increased accountability of commanders.

Though Levin replaced Gillibrand’s amendment with a provision to criminalize retaliation as it applies in personnel matters, Gillibrand on Wednesday said that the changes were insufficient:  “Victims have told us what [the problem] is...It’s the climate. They feel they can’t report without being blamed, retaliated against, marginalized.”

Nevertheless, Sanchez said she disagrees with Gillibrand, despite knowing first-hand the effects of retaliation:

“The reason I feel so strongly about this is that yes, I was in a business situation where I was being sexually harassed and sexually assaulted...When I reported, the fact of the matter is, even though I had tons of friends, and they all agreed when they talked to H.R. that this was going on, the fact of the matter is, within the workplace, nobody wanted to talk to me, nobody wanted to work with me. Everybody was afraid of their own retaliation from the higher-ups. And certainly, it got to a point where I couldn’t be effective in the work that I was doing, and I had to leave. So I completely understand. Not only the fact that women get raped, but that if they report, they are retaliated against. And that’s why we have a very strong provision for whistleblowing within our NDAA—National Defense Authorization Act—the bill that we’re debating today on the House floor with respect to some of the issues of sexual assault.”