Gillibrand, Outside Group Push Back Against Military Sexual Assault Report

Victims advocates have pressed for the decision to prosecute a sexual-assault case be taken away from the military chain of command.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks while U.S. military leaders testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military June 4, 2013.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jordain Carney
Jan. 31, 2014, 12:48 p.m.

Sen. Kirsten Gil­librand is push­ing back on a sub­com­mit­tee re­port re­leased Thursday that re­com­men­ded com­mand­ers keep their au­thor­ity in sexu­al as­sault cases.

A ma­jor­ity of the Role of the Com­mand­er sub­com­mit­tee said they didn’t be­lieve re­mov­ing com­mand­ers’ au­thor­ity in mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault cases would boost sexu­al-as­sault re­port­ing or re­duce the num­ber of sexu­al as­saults.

“There is noth­ing sur­pris­ing about a Pentagon sub-pan­el work­ing mostly be­hind closed doors sup­port­ing stated Pentagon policy and en­cour­aging more time to wait and see if the prob­lem gets bet­ter. We have waited for too long, be­cause un­der any met­ric, the sys­tem is broken and our ser­vice­mem­bers de­serve bet­ter,” James Rahm, a spokes­per­son for the New York Demo­crat, said.

The sub­com­mit­tee, which has nine mem­bers, was cre­ated as part of the Re­sponse Sys­tems to Adult Sexu­al As­sault Crimes Pan­el, es­tab­lished by the 2013 Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act.

And Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers, a mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault vic­tims ad­vocacy group, quickly hit back at the re­port.

“The idea that pro­fes­sion­al, in­de­pend­ent, justice is good enough for Amer­ic­an cit­izens, but not for those who risk their lives to pro­tect our val­ues is un-Amer­ic­an,” said Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers Pres­id­ent Nancy Par­rish, in a state­ment.”… This pan­el has so far de­cided to stand with the status quo and the hol­low Pentagon prom­ises of ‘zero tol­er­ance.’”

Only one of the nine, Eliza­beth Hill­man, a law pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia Hast­ings Col­lege of the Law, dis­agreed with the sub­com­mit­tee’s re­port, not­ing that com­mand­ers “are neither es­sen­tial nor well-suited for their cur­rent role in the leg­al pro­cess of crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion.”

Mem­bers of Con­gress have changed how the mil­it­ary deals with sexu­al-as­sault cases in the past few Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Acts, in­clud­ing re­mov­ing a com­mand­er’s abil­ity to over­turn jury con­vic­tions and re­quir­ing a ci­vil­ian re­view if a com­mand­er de­cides against pro­sec­ut­ing.

The sub­com­mit­tee’s re­port sug­gests that more time is needed to see if such changes can cre­ate “mean­ing­ful im­prove­ments” be­fore mak­ing a “sys­tem­ic” change.

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