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I was outraged by the news earlier this week that the coordinator of the Army's program to prevent sexual assault at Fort Hood in Texas is under investigation for abusive sexual contact. This follows last week's revelation that the officer tasked with preventing sexual assault in the Air Force had been arrested for assaulting a woman in a parking lot. It is hard to believe this was the second such incident in just over a week. All of this comes as the Pentagon released its own study showing a dramatic increase in sexual assaults and unwanted sexual contact in the military from 19,000 in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. Even more concerning: only 3,374 of those cases were reported, and less than 10% of those were brought to trial.

While I appreciate Secretary Hagel's taking positive steps to enact reform, we need more than just words or retraining. It's increasingly clear that the military justice system is not working for its victims and the chain of command is incapable of policing itself when it comes to a zero tolerance reality for these serious crimes. Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to move forward now with bold reform that puts victims first.

In March, as Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, I held the first Senate hearing on sexual assault in the military in almost ten years. One of the issues I asked military officials about was the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson who, last year at the Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, was convicted by a five-person jury of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the Air Force. After his conviction, Wilkerson's commander, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, proceeded to dismiss the case entirely, and re-instated Wilkerson to the Air Force.

We have heard over and over again from the military brass about the need for commanders to have this type of authority to maintain good order and discipline in the ranks. When commanders without legal training overturn jury decisions, or never send the complaints to trial at all, and those responsible for preventing sexual assault are alleged to have committed these acts themselves, then how can you possibly say there is good order and discipline now?

I was encouraged when Secretary Hagel announced his support for removing the power to overturn an assault sentence from the convening officer within an assault victim's chain of command. That is a strong step forward, but it is clear that we must go even further. When you talk to victims of sexual assault in the military, you hear that it's crucial that the decision making authority of whether or not a case goes to trial in the first place, should be removed from the chain of command as well. With only 3,000 cases reported out of a total of 26,000 assaults last year, it's clear that within the current system, the victims of assault do not feel they will get treated fairly or that justice will be done if they come forward. This must change.

That's why yesterday I was proud to introduce the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 with Senator Boxer, Senator Collins, and a bipartisan group of our colleagues in both houses of Congress. This strong bipartisan bill would place the reporting and decision making for cases of sexual assault, and other serious crimes that are punishable by one year or more, outside of the victim's chain of command and in the hands of a trained military prosecutor. Only when there is real accountability in the military justice system will more survivors of these crimes have the confidence to report them, and only then will these survivors get the justice they deserve.

Our best and brightest join our armed forces for all the right reasons and the vast majority of our brave men and women serving in uniform do so honorably. But there is also no doubt that we have men and women in uniform who are committing unconscionable acts of violence. The scourge of sexual violence in the military should be intolerable to all Americans and it's time to bring it to an end once and for all. We must commit ourselves not just to a zero tolerance policy, but we need to get to a point of zero occurrence. We owe it to the men and women who bravely join the military. While they join knowing the risks involved in serving, sexual assault at the hands of one of their colleagues in uniform should not be one of them.

Originally posted to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Fri May 17, 2013 at 11:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank You Senator n/t (7+ / 0-)

    "In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets. " James Webb, Sep 02

    by ParaHammer on Fri May 17, 2013 at 11:50:28 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for posting Senator. (6+ / 0-)

    I have strong feelings about this. I am glad that you are working with my Senator Murray on this most depressing issue. Please know we are watching and will not let this issue slide. Hopefully this bill will pass.
    Peace and Blessings!

    United we the people stand, divided we the people fall.

    by Penny GC on Fri May 17, 2013 at 11:57:46 AM PDT

  •  Wow just had a little daydream (5+ / 0-)

    and Hillary was Secretary of Defense.  I can imagine her in the Pentagon knocking some heads together.

    "In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets. " James Webb, Sep 02

    by ParaHammer on Fri May 17, 2013 at 12:00:38 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for your work on this issue, Senator. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tytalus, devtob, skohayes, commonmass, LuLu

    You really understand that the nature of these crimes and correctly define sexual abuse as the violent crime that it is.  I also appreciate the fact that when I've seen you interviewed you make sure that people understand that some 50% of the victims are male which is important for people to understand.  The story here is not about women being the weaker more vulnerable sex - it is about violence and crime in the military which looks to be "equal opportunity" and cannot be blamed on women being in the military.

    In any case, one thing that I don't know and maybe you do is what kind of discipline would a service member face were they found to have simply badly beaten another service person?  

    Are attacks that do not have a sexual component to the crime treated differently than those where sexual abuse is involved in military circles?

  •  Thank you Senator Gillibrand (4+ / 0-)

    Thank you for your vision and your willingness to tackle the difficult issues.
    Can't wait to vote for you again and again and again!

  •  Necessary, sadly (6+ / 0-)

    I hope it passes. It should also apply at training academies. At the Air Force Academy in particular I know of horrible stories of the treatment of rape victims.

    Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

    by ramara on Fri May 17, 2013 at 01:08:24 PM PDT

  •  Thank you Senator Gillibrand. (5+ / 0-)

    This is a difficult issue.  The future of the armed services will involve increased interaction between young men and women.  It is critical that the armed services of the United States lead the way, as they have led the way in so many other social movements, and create an environment in which all members of the services will know that their rights will be protected.

    "Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?" Will Rogers offering advice to the Republican Party.

    by NM Ray on Fri May 17, 2013 at 01:17:58 PM PDT

  •  Many military officers are (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MBNYC, commonmass, socindemsclothing, LuLu

    part of the good old boys club, and there to "protect their men", which is why it's so important to remove them from the process of reporting and prosecuting sexual assault cases.
    Thank you for your voice, Senator. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

    “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

    by skohayes on Fri May 17, 2013 at 01:57:10 PM PDT

    •  There are so many ways (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LuLu, skohayes

      that the "Old Boys Club" has screwed the officer corps up that it would take volumes to describe them all.

      But keeping this kind of nonsense in the public eye is a good start.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Fri May 17, 2013 at 04:39:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you Senator for sharing this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    socindemsclothing, Byrnt, LuLu

    important diary with us.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Fri May 17, 2013 at 03:03:16 PM PDT

  •  Senator Patty Murray just lost my vote (0+ / 0-)

    by proposing 'victims' advocates' which would change exactly nothing.

    You can see from the newsreels how hope was once vested in the Democratic Party, in the time of Kennedy and Obama. I do not believe it will be again.

    "The war on drugs followed by the war on terror has eliminated protections we have had since the Magna Carta." -Horace Boothroyd III

    by mookins on Fri May 17, 2013 at 05:01:51 PM PDT

    •  local and state courts have these (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Victim's assistance specialists.  I worked with one or two of them locally and they were very helpful in answering questions.  They explained what I could expect in their particular venue.  They are a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle.  If good people aren't placed in these jobs, however, having them is pointless.

      Shine like the humblest star.

      by ljm on Fri May 17, 2013 at 09:35:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you, Senator, for taking action. (0+ / 0-)

    I saw the documentary, Invisible War, on PBS this week, and have been haunted terribly since. How can such abuse have been allowed to exist and continue all these years?  I believe justice will not be served till all the authority for justice in these situations is removed from the millitary and placed in another jurisdiction. The military has proven they cannot monitor their own. Plus, it is a crime against humanity what I saw in the film, and to find that treatment was denied by the authorities to the victims boggles my mind.

    Please, everyone, see this documentary and continue to support the Senator and her bill.  Order the DVD on PBS Independent Lens site, and you support public TV.

  •  Senator. Why are crimes committed in the (0+ / 0-)

    military, especially in the US, not prosecuted in our criminal justice system?

    Put another way why are these women and men denied the right of access to the same justice system as any other citizen.

    I'll grant that there can be some major complications such as in an active theater of war, but it is obvious that this extra judicial system is about a much into justice and unbiased judgment as the courts in Gitmo.

    Surely these victims deserve as much access to Justice as the rest of America.

  •  Thank you for doing the right thing. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am so proud that you are my senator.

    Still trying to think of something thought-provoking and/or hilarious for this space.

    by LuLu on Fri May 17, 2013 at 07:34:49 PM PDT

  •  Thank you, Senator Gillibrand. (0+ / 0-)

    Lead on.

  •  Thank you for your effort (0+ / 0-)

    I am concerned that the military prosecutors also have a commander and concern for their own OER.  It's still an old boys club.  I was a civilian military whistle-blower in 1989.  I eventually went to Federal Court under a civil rights law as well as the WPA of 1989.  The judge and the assistant US attorney assigned to my case were not random selections.  The judge was most certainly biased.  Three military lawyers were present at my trial in addition to the assistant US attorney.  I wanted a jury and was denied a jury.  I wasn't in a chain of command, but might as well have been.  The judge made up his own facts, rewriting my life, when the military lawyer said himself in his opening statement they "didn't take issue with the factual background in this case."  Actually, that's what the transcript said, what he actually said was, "By the way, We don't dispute the facts in this case."  I only recently understood why that change was made in the transcript.  The judge had already decided to rule based on the facts of the case, as his decision contained no case law and really drifted from actual law.  In the end, what I got was a Star Chamber, not justice.  The court of appeals rubber stamped his decision, again with no case law and both decisions were made unpublished, so even though I doubt there'd ever been a case like mine before, so it probably was a precedent, it was made a secret and unbinding.  There's shenanigans in the Federal Courts, so the military people saying they want the trials there, I'm afraid will have an experience not unlike mine.  I call it judicial gaslighting.  The judge had the audacity to rewrite my reality.  He had barred me from bringing a great deal of evidence in my case, even though I had a written settlement agreement with the military saying I wouldn't be barred from bringing the facts in that time frame by Collateral Estoppel or Res Judicata.  He violated that agreement.   The courts are an old boys network, too.  I had no real chance at justice.  I got an unjust decision.  The entire process took me 10 years and over $100,000, which would be much much more in today's money.  What I did get for my money was a Perry Mason moment when the man who had been tasked to be my psychological abuser did not deny using the skills he'd learned as an interrogator in Vietnam on me.  When asked that question, he blew up on the witness stand and stormed out of the courtroom.  The judge just watched him go.  He didn't call him back.  I knew he was doing that at the time, but I was barred from bringing evidence and testimony about much of what he did.  I also have a document that showed the military found discrimination in my first two cases.  It was broken in three parts.  The judge ignored that finding, even though the form was in evidence.  I got it in discovery.  As for the guy who they tasked to do that to me.  As far as I know, he still works for them.  He's worked for them for decades now.

    Shine like the humblest star.

    by ljm on Fri May 17, 2013 at 09:26:04 PM PDT

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