Combatting Sexual Violence

Fighting to curb domestic and sexual violence - and working to protect and empower survivors of such violence - is an effort that has marked Claire’s career in public service, and has become a defining issue of her second term in the U.S. Senate.

Before joining the Senate, Claire worked as a courtroom prosecutor in Kansas City specializing in sex crimes, and served as Jackson County Prosecutor, establishing the Kansas City region’s first law enforcement unit dedicated to combatting domestic and sexual violence.

Claire believes that the most effective ways to curb such violence and force necessary changes in cultural attitudes, are to offer robust services and protections for survivors and to strengthen accountability for perpetrators, as well as the institutions that have a responsibility for addressing these crimes. Such changes, Claire believes, will ultimately lead to increased confidence by victims in judicial systems, and therefore to a higher rate of reporting of sexual crimes.

Claire is a nationally recognized leader, who helped achieve a sweeping and historic overhaul of the U.S. military justice system to combat sexual assaults in the ranks - and has recently turned her attention to target the prevalence of sexual violence on America’s college and university campuses.

Renewing the Violence Against Women Act

Having served as Jackson County Prosecutor when the original Violence Against Women Act was passed, Claire was one of the leading advocates in Congress for the landmark law’s renewal upon its expiration in 2012. Programs through the law provide resources to state and local governments to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence and protect victims of domestic violence and their children. Claire often cited the resources made available by the law, and its role in her work as a prosecutor, creating a Domestic Violence Unit in her office, and helping establish a similar unit in the Kansas City Police Department. Those changes aided in the prosecution of abusers, and also provided access to resources for victims’ advocates to advise, counsel, and protect women and their children.

Rallying support for renewal of the law, Claire said: “If you were there 35 years ago on the front lines and you knew the progress we made today, you wouldn’t be voting ‘No’ on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.” While renewal of the law was previously noncontroversial and bipartisan, opposition from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 threw the fate of the law into jeopardy.

Following a nearly year-long effort - in which she rallied support for the law in events across Missouri, and in the Senate - Claire helped lead the successful fight to overcome opposition in the U.S. House, and renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act, which now improves upon the original programs by:

  • Reducing bureaucracy and strengthening accountability measures to ensure that resources provided to states are properly spent
  • Placing greater emphasis on training for law enforcement response to sexual assaults, which have among the lowest conviction rates for any violent crime
  • Renewing successful and important programs that have helped law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable

Curbing Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military

In 2012 and 2013, a series of high-profile, troubling sexual assault cases helped build public pressure in support of major changes to how the U.S. Military investigates and prosecutes rapes and sexual assaults. And as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as a former sex crimes prosecutor, Claire helped lead debate on the issue with the twin goals of better protecting and empowering survivors, and holding both perpetrators and military commanders accountable.

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.
  • Victims who report 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 case at the Naval Academy, has been reformed to better protect victims.
  • The statute of limitations in these cases has now been eliminated, a particularly important development in a sustained battle against sexual assaults.

Claire also relied on her experience as a sex crimes prosecutor in successfully arguing against an alternative proposal that would have stripped senior commanders of their ability to launch courts-martial. Claire argued that proposal would result in less protection for victims and fewer prosecutions of predators. That opposition was ultimately validated when an independent panel of policy experts created by Congress - majority-civilian and majority-women—voted decisively to reject the alternative proposal.

Claire is currently working to advance - and has won unanimous Senate approval for  - additional reforms with her colleagues Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, which would eliminate the “good soldier” defense for servicemembers accused of sexual assault under most circumstances, and would allow victims formal input on whether their case is tried in military or civilian court. Other proposed measures include: allowing sexual assault survivors to challenge their discharge or separation from service, strengthening the role of the prosecutor in advising commanders on going to court-martial, boosting accountability of commanders for addressing sexual assault as well as setting appropriate command climate, and extending protections to the Military Service Academies.

Protecting Students

Following her successful leadership in reforming the military justice system, Claire has turned her focus to curbing sexual assaults on college campuses.

Through the oversight panel she chairs, Claire launched an unprecedented national survey of colleges and universities. In the first Congressional inquiry of its kind, the survey of hundreds of schools across the country examined exactly how schools handle rapes and sexual assaults on campuses - specifically focusing on how such crimes are reported and investigated and how students are notified about available services. Upon releasing her report, Claire called the results a “wakeup call” to the nation’s institutions of higher learning, demonstrating a disturbing failure by many institutions to comply with the law and with best practices in how they handle sexual violence against students—failures which affect nearly every stage of the institutions’ responses to sexual violence. 

Claire also organized a series of public roundtable discussions, convening stakeholders from across the country to study law enforcement, Title IX federal civil rights law, and other federal policies including The Clery Act and Campus SaVE Act.

With this information, Claire has begun working with her colleagues to craft legislation to better protect students from sexual assaults, and to hold perpetrators accountable.