Friday, March 14, 2014

Revolutionary Reforms for Military Sexual Assault

       Senator Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act was shot down last week in favor of a less extensive bill proposed by Senator Claire McCaskill. Still considered progressive, McCaskill's bill will ensure that all cases in which commanders or prosecutors do not want to proceed, judge advocates will review the case. It also addresses the outdated and controversial “Good Soldier” clause by allowing all sexual violence cases which occur off-base or at a military academy to be tried in either a civilian or military court at the victim's discretion.

       Taking a different approach, Gillibrand's bill sought to completely remove adjudication from the chain of command. Gillibrand sheds light on the fact that out of the 26,000 cases of sexual assault that happened in the military last year, 1 in 4 of the perpetrators were within the victim's chain of command. In the case of commanders who are not guilty of sexual violence, they still may be less inclined to prosecute in fear of a bad image and repudiation from their own higher-ups, leaving them in an inherently biased position. Because of a victim's fear of retaliation and lack of faith in receiving a fair trial, more than 80% of victims do not report their cases.

       McCaskill argues that removing a commander from cases will have little effect given that countries that have enacted identical laws have experienced no increase in reporting. It's important to take note that other countries’ military justice systems are vastly different from ours, making it hard to compare without considering the vast number of other factors that could be at work. With that said, military sexual assaults were estimated to have increased by over 30% this year. Time is of the essence and we can only hope that these reforms make the necessary impact victims and advocates alike have so desperately longed for.

Read more here.