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Retired Female Servicemembers: Reforms Best Way to Protect Victims

McCaskill, Ayotte, Tester joined by retired female servicemembers who say bipartisan proposal ensures commanders will be held accountable

July 25, 2013

WASHINGTON - Today, a group of retired female servicemembers joined U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), to discuss the historic and bipartisan reforms approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee to combat military sexual assaults. The group of retired female judge advocate, commanders, and non-commissioned officers shared their personal views on how best to protect victims and prevent military sexual assault-articulating why keeping the commander involved in prosecutions is a critical component of any reform package.

"This boils down to a commander's ability to exercise good, fair, strong leadership," said retired Navy Captain Kathy Beasley. "As a commander, I would have wanted these reforms to deal with tough cases."

"If the prosecutors have the only say, we will have fewer prosecutions-that's what the data says," said McCaskill, a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "In just the past two years, we've had dozens and dozens of cases in which civilian prosecutors declined to prosecute, but commanders stepped forward and made the decision to proceed."

"Military sexual assault is a serious problem that must be addressed. The bipartisan provisions in the defense bill passed by the Armed Services Committee include strong protections for victims, including a Special Victims' Counsel to help victims throughout the process," said Senator Ayotte. "Everything within the military happens within the chain of command. To make sure that victims are supported and that these cases are vigorously prosecuted, we can't let commanders off the hook. Taking away their responsibility to act will also make it more difficult to hold them accountable."

"Our military is the strongest in the world, but military sexual assault hurts survivors and sends the wrong message about our values," Tester said. "This bill holds commanders accountable for reducing sexual assault and punishing perpetrators by increasing oversight and sending the message that sexual assault is always unacceptable."

"This proposal is important for victims, and it's going to address this issue-victims need to be empowered, and this bill empowers the victims," said Colonel Lisa Schenck, a retired Army Judge Advocate.

The historic reforms added to the Defense Authorization bill had unanimous support from the Senate Armed Services Committee, 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 service secretaries to provide a Special Victims' Counsel to provide legal advice and assistance to service members who are victims of a sexual assault committed by a member of the armed forces
  • 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 U.S. House Armed Services Committee also overwhelmingly approved similar provisions. Click HERE and HERE to view the different reporting structures under consideration.

Click HERE for a chart mapping out the historic provisions currently being debated to combat military sexual assaults.

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