Curbing Sexual Assaults in the Military
Protecting and empowering survivors. Holding commanders accountable. Putting predators behind bars. U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill - a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, and senior member of the Armed Services Committee - helped lead the successful effort overhauling how the military justice system handles sexual assaults. In what was called 'a huge win for victims of sexual assault' and 'a triumph for the growing number of women in Congress', Congress approved and the President signed a series of sweeping reforms as part of 2013's annual defense bill:
- Commanders have been stripped of the ability to overturn convictions, and will be held accountable under rigorous new standards.
- Every victim who reports a sexual assault will get their own independent lawyer to protect their rights and fight for their interests - a reform that has no parallel in the civilian justice system.
- Civilian review is now required if a commander decides against a prosecution in a sexual assault case when a prosecutor wants to go to trial.
- Dishonorable discharge is now a required minimum sentence for anyone convicted of a sexual assault.
- It is now a crime for any servicemember to retaliate against a victim who reports a sexual assault.
- The pre-trial "Article 32" process, which came under scrutiny following a recent case at the Naval Academy, has been reformed to better protect victims.
- And the statute of limitations in these cases has now been eliminated, a particularly important development in a sustained battle against sexual assaults.
Click HERE to read a recent column by Claire outlining an evidence-based approach to military justice reforms.
Click HERE to read a column by Claire and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, making the case for historic reforms that maintain military commanders' accountability.
Click HERE to read a Huffington Post blog by Claire outlining reasons why the "policy matters" when it comes to combating sexual assaults in the military.
- Introduced legislation to strip commanders' authority to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders, while also imposing new requirements that strengthen accountability in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
- Expanded her legislation and gained bipartisan support from Republican Senator Susan Collins, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt - as well as Republican Congressman Mike Turner and Democratic Congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
- May 23, 2013 (video) "We need to march forward unified, with important reforms, that will protect and support victims... and will make sure that people who've never heard the testimony, who've not been in a position to judge the credibility of the witnesses, who have no legal training-make sure those people never again have the ability to overturn the work of a jury that has in fact made those decisions based on the evidence they heard."
- Won approval in the Senate Armed Services Committee of historic reforms, including stripping commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, installing civilian review of decisions to not prosecute cases, providing victims their own independent legal counsel, mandating dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault, eliminating the statute of limitations in these cases, making it clear that commanders who fail to address sexual assaults should be relieved of command, and many others.
- June 12, 2013 (video): "My years of experience as a courtroom prosecutor handling hundreds of these cases guide my decisions today."
- Participated in several Armed Services Committee hearings in which she grilled military leaders on sexual assaults in the military and how to better hold perpetrators accountable and protect survivors:
- March 5, 2013 (video) "I question whether, after this incident, there's any chance a woman assaulted in that unit would ever say a word. There's a culture issue that's going to have to be addressed here."
- March 13, 2013 (video) "Rape is the crime of a coward - and rapists in the ranks are masquerading as real members of our military."
- May 7, 2013 (video) "This was not someone who understood what his job was about."
- June 4, 2013 (video) "There is a difference between discipline and punishment."
- Joined retired female servicemembers - as well as New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte - with a combined total of nearly two centuries in the U.S. military, making the case for why the historic reforms will make the most difference, and why an alternative approach to completely strip commanders of their responsibilities in these cases would actually lead to a higher risk of retaliation against survivors who tell their stories, less prosecutions of predators, and weakened accountability up-and-down the chain of command.
- Introduced bipartisan provisions with Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte and Deb Fischer to strengthen and augment the already historic reform package that passed the Armed Services Committee in June to curb military sexual assault.
- November 14, 2013 (video) "For the three of us this has always been about a very simple concept. What can we do to make prosecutions successful and what can we do to protect victims? The policy matters."
- Received key backing from service associations including hundreds of retired officers in the Air Force Association, Association of the United States Army, and Association of the United States Navy for an approach that retains a limited role for commanders.
- Joined with fellow former prosecutor Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, as well as Senator Jeanne Shaheen, writing to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel - and then introducing legislation to require - that he elevate the rank of the personnel assigned to lead sexual assault prevention & response programs and ensure they have the necessary experience and qualification.
- Blocked the nomination of Lieutenant General Susan Helms - nominated by the Obama Administration to serve as Vice Commander of U.S. Space Command - who overturned a jury conviction in a sexual assault case in 2012, against the advice of legal counsel.
- Requested a formal review of the actions of General Franklin (convening authority in the Aviano case) in a letter to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.
- Held one-on-one meetings with survivors (including the victim in the Aviano case), prosecutors (like the Judge Advocate General of the Air Force, Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Army Judge Advocate General), and commanders (including Major General Margaret Woodword, head of a newly revamped Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office).
- Organized and hosted a roundtable discussion with the Missouri National Guard to highlight successful efforts at combatting sexual assaults.
- Introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure survivors of sexual assault in the U.S. Coast Guard are granted expedited consideration and determination of a request for transfer away from the geographic location of their alleged assailant.
- Cosponsored legislation to improve benefits and treatment for survivors of sexual assault in the military.
- Successfully shaped previous National Defense Authorization bills to better protect survivors of sexual assault in the military-including a measure to provide training of sexual assault response coordinators and increase support for the head of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office; as well as a requirement that the Department of Defense keep evidence in sexual assault cases for a longer period of time in order to improve victims' ability to bring their assailant to justice.
Read more about Claire's work combatting sexual assaults in the military below:
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial: Congress moving to prevent victimizing military sex assault victims
Additional resources highlighting Claire's fight to combat sexual assaults in the military below:
- A Venn Diagram: the Similarities and Differences Between the Armed Services Committee Approved Reforms and the Gillibrand Alternative