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Senate Panel Endorses Reforms to Address Military Sexual Assaults

McCaskill’s bipartisan, bicameral provisions included among host of substantial reforms to hold perpetrators accountable, better protect survivors

June 12, 2013

WASHINGTON - A key Senate panel today voted to approve a host of significant reforms addressing sexual assault in the military, including bipartisan, bicameral provisions by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill that will significantly boost accountability for perpetrators and protections for survivors.

"Sexual assault survivors deserve justice to see the perpetrators of these crimes put behind bars-and with the inclusion of these historic provisions we're one step closer to making that a reality," said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The courageous men and women in our military deserve a system where a jury's justice in a sexual assault case can never be undone unilaterally, without explanation, by the stroke of a pen."

The historic reforms added to the Defense Authorization bill had unanimous support, and include provisions that will:

  • Strip commanders of their authority to dismiss court martial convictions for most offenses, including in cases of rape and sexual assault
  • Require any case involving sexual assault where a commander overrules the advice of a Staff Judge Advocate to proceed to court martial be automatically referred to the civilian Service Secretary (e.g. the Secretary of the Army) for a final decision as to whether the case should proceed to court martial
  • Make it a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to retaliate against a victim who reports a criminal offense
  • Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence
  • Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, to receive input from the victim before arriving at any decision during clemency proceedings
  • Require that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge
  • Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child
  • Ensure the military has the authority to move an individual accused of sexual assault from a unit to protect a victim from unwanted contact with their alleged attacker, while sustaining a victim's right to request expedited transfer
  • Provide for study of the military's ability to create a database of information regarding those accused by victims in restricted military reports-meaning the victim chooses to not have the information given to law enforcement, commanders, or others to facilitate potential prosecution-such that serial offenders might be identified and victims might be encouraged to make unrestricted reports that allow for prosecutions in those cases
  • Express the Sense of the Senate that commanding officers are responsible for a command climate that appropriately handles sexual assault, that failure of a commanding officer to maintain such a command climate is an appropriate basis for relief of their command position, and that command climate should be a consideration in a commander's performance evaluation
  • Removes the past performance and character of an accused from those factors that may be considered by a commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, in deciding whether to refer a case to court martial
  • Provides that in sexual assault cases in which a Staff Judge Advocate and a Commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, agree that a case should not proceed to court martial, the next higher military commander also review this determination

The action comes just one week after the U.S. House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly approved similar provisions, including companion legislation to a measure by McCaskill and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), addressing sexual assault in the military.

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