The military’s sexual assault epidemic
There were 18,900 cases of sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2014. It’s an epidemic of sexual assault that is made even worse because the assaults are under-reported and under-prosecuted, with victims often facing devastating retaliation.
The Pentagon has repeatedly claimed that it can handle this problem – and repeatedly tried to thwart or water-down Congress’ efforts to intervene. It’s clear that the military is failing to protect victims of sexual assault and punish perpetrators. Of those 18,900 incidents, only 6,131 were reported and only 587 proceeded to trial. According to the Pentagon, 62 percent of women who reported being sexually assaulted experienced retaliation.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, freeing victims to speak out without fear of retribution or punishment and putting trained and unbiased military prosecutors in charge of deciding which sexual assault crimes to try. Pro-Pentagon senators successfully killed the bill in 2014, but its needed reforms will be on the table again when the Senate takes up this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, as soon as next week.
Tell the Senate to ensure justice for victims of sexual assault in the military.
Survivors of military sexual assault consistently say that the number one barrier to reporting assaults is a lack of trust in the chain of command. Last year, this view was validated by the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, when he said, "Why wouldn't female Marines come forward? Because they don't trust us. They don't trust the command. They don't trust the leadership.”
Current rules give commanding officers the final say over prosecution of service-members under their command. The rule suppresses reporting when victims fear retaliation or don’t trust that their cases will be handled fairly. It also encourages ill-trained commanders to avoid prosecuting people under their command -- protecting careers instead of victims. And when military hearings do occur, victims are often subject to a degrading and antagonistic process.
Senator Gillibrand has worked tirelessly to advance this bill in the face of pressure from the Pentagon and high-ranking members of her own party. In 2014, she organized 55 senators, including 11 Republicans, to vote to protect victims of sexual assault in the military, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a pro-Pentagon filibuster. We need to do everything we can to make sure more senators do the right thing this time around.
Tell your senators to vote yes on Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Thank you for standing up for survivors of sexual assault in the military.