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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand meets members of the 106th Rescue Wing, Westhampton Beach, NY.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Might the military once again slip out from under the threat of serious changes to its sexual assault prevention and response? With attention focused on Syria, there's reason to worry that Congress will be less willing to challenge the military, or will simply take the chance to punt on this as on so many things.

Lobbying on both sides of the issue—to keep commanders in charge of sexual assault response as the Pentagon and senators like Claire McCaskill and Carl Levin want or to put it in the hands of legal experts as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and victim-advocacy groups are calling for—continued through the August recess, Darren Samuelsohn reports:

Protect Our Defenders, a victim-advocacy group, has delivered more than 260 letters to senators. The group’s staff and officers had more than a dozen meetings with senators and their aides in Washington and back home in their states — many of them undecided — over the August break. Advocates say they’ll also be bolstered by several high-profile sexual assault cases moving now through the military’s opaque justice system, including the Naval Academy superintendent’s pending decision on whether to court-martial three former football players and the Fort Bragg trial later this month of Army Brig. Gen. Jeffery A. Sinclair, a rare event for such a high-ranking officer accused of assaulting a female subordinate.

McCaskill, who was blindsided earlier this summer by a Protect Our Defenders ad attacking her position in her home-state paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also went on offense publishing an op-ed in USA Today with California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, herself a victim of sexual assault. The two Democrats went directly after Gillibrand. “We view this as a risky approach for victims — one that would increase the risk of retaliation, weaken our ability to hold commanders accountable and lead to fewer prosecutions,” they wrote.

(Never mind that that's not what victim advocacy groups say, folks!) Both Gillibrand and McCaskill have been talking with undecided senators about their competing proposals. But now, congressional attention to the military will be on Syria, and voting on sexual assault proposals will likely be delayed, possibly until after Christmas.

It's important to keep up the pressure: Tell the U.S. Senate to take action against sexual assault in the military by passing Sen. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act.

Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 09:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's been obvious for several eras that (5+ / 0-)

    the military is incapable and unwilling to handle these issues. There needs to be an outside civilian authority to protect people in the service, when they come forward with their stories. If for no other reason, than to guarantee they get timely, effective treatment for the conditions that arise after the fact, documentation for their record, when they become veterans--just for starters.

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

    by GreenMother on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 09:55:59 AM PDT

    •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

      And how long have you commanded a military organization?  How many times have you had to unilaterally had to decide to punish or not?  How often have you sat on a Court Martial?  How many rape cases have you been a witness for?  How many have been a character witness?  How many times have you had to decide what reasonable doubt is?  How many times have you had to cast a vote for guilty or not guilty?  How many soldiers have you taken to the hospital for a rape kit?  How well do you know the UCMJ?  Which of the 57 punitive articles of the UCMJ would you charge someone with?  

      You seem to be very sure of some absolute about the military so what background do you have for making those pronouncements?  Or are you just saying things with no basis in facts?

      It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

      by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 06:06:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I would rather hear your opinion, (0+ / 0-)

        which I assume is informed by experience with military command, than to simply read a comment attacking someone else for having an opinion. What do you think we should do about the epidemic of sexual attacks in the military?

        I'm amazed by people's courage and kindness in the face of everything and life.

        by LaraJones on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:06:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I want to hear (0+ / 0-)

          what the background for the learned folks here is.  I read all kinds of pronouncements on what the military is or is not doing and yet as far as I can tell few if any have spent one day in the service or even had a close family member in the service.  

          As for an epidemic, if you mean less than 1% of all service members doing something unacceptable then yes, we have a huge problem dealing with that tiny tiny tiny fraction.  Never mind any college president would love to have our "problem."  Never mind any large city mayor would love to have our "problem."  But hey, why deal with facts and informed opinions when they dont fit the narrative.

          Military Bad.  Bad Military.  

          It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

          by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:39:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What the background is? (0+ / 0-)

            Another one wants my entire service record so HE CAN JUDGE! Well ain't that grande.

            Anything else you want? My SSN? My DD214? Maybe you want a list of military references so you can personally call them and ask them if I am worthy to speak on such a thing.

            Because this is something that has affected me directly, I have followed these stories for years, and talked to female vets who served way before I did. The stories are the same.

            Nothing changes.


            Nothing changes.

            That's the problem.

            Nothing changes.

            Same Shit Different Day.

            Every female who lives through something like this hopes that it ends with her and guess what---No one I know so far has been able to claim that SHE--the FIGHT she fought broke that chain.

            Not one.

            So after 40 years of nothing changing--maybe longer than that--It's time to take that power away from the command and farm it out to a civilian agency.

            It's time to stop wasting resources and the lives AND careers of young women, and some men too with this messed up attempt to hide a problem that desperately needs to be solved and rectified.

            The military has made it abundantly clear repeatedly that it is not up for this task. You want to plant missiles in someone's backyard, or do a search and rescue in some hot zone--military has your back.

            But for many reasons--it has been incapable as an organization to fix this issue, so it's time to stop the suffering, and try a different path.

            If you are so worried about outsourcing there are other topics to be tackled, but this one--this one needs to be fixed ASAP for the sake of unit cohesion and whats left of the integrity of the chain of command with regard to sexual harassment and rape.

            Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

            by GreenMother on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 08:14:19 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  So no answer then (0+ / 0-)

              From what you have said you seem to have a lot of interaction with female vets.  Wonderful.  You have no doubt hear some pretty bad things.

              But that isnt what I asked.  You stated that the military " is incapable and unwilling to handle these issues."  I this from the perspective of someone who was actually tasked with handling these issues?  Because its easy to say nothing is happening when you dont have to do anything.  So I ask again, have you ever been a military commander?  have you ever had to judge a case?  

              Nothing changes?  Really?  How many years do you have to judge that by because in my 27 years I have seen DRASTIC changes.  Behavior that was encouraged when I started serving would get you an OTH discharge today.  Female commanders were rare when I first came in but they are so routine as to be unremarkable now.  Given your statement that nothing changes, apparently a lot of female commanders dont take sexual assault seriously.  Because its a chain of command issue right?  Funny we dont see ANY statistical deviation in the number of reported assaults in male vs female commands.....

              And of course you completely ignore the FACT that as an organization the rate of sexual crimes in the military is far below the general population.  Given the FACT that the military represents a large enough sample to be an absolute reflection of society, it seems we do actually do a lot to reduce the rate of sexual assault.

              It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

              by ksuwildkat on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:07:22 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I have no answer simple enough for you (0+ / 0-)

                to understand.

                Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

                by GreenMother on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:20:55 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  You have no answer (0+ / 0-)

                  that is based on fact.

                  You have no answer that wont show that you are making emotional pronouncements about the military that have no basis in reality.  

                  Its a simple question - have you commanded or not?  Even my simple mind can handle yes or no.

                  Have you served on a court martial panel for a rape case - or any other case - or not?

                  Have you had to decide imposition of punishment or not?

                  See these are easy questions.  Yes or no.  Single syllable.  

                  It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

                  by ksuwildkat on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:33:50 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

        •  BTW (0+ / 0-)

          I did not "attack" the OP for having an opinion.  I asked what the basis for that opinion was.  I asked questions on background and experience that would illuminate me and others as to the weight the opinion should hold.  When someones states something like "military is incapable and unwilling to handle these issues" it matters a lot if the person has ever spent any time in, around or even near the military.  The statement would normally indicate personal knowledge of the issue being either handled badly or not at all.  It is the kind of knowledge one would have from being a commander, sitting on a courts martial, imposing punishment and taking a victim through the process.  

          If I gave an opinion on the validity of string theory I think people would want to know that I have a college education.  The would want to know even more than I have degrees in Political Science and Middle Eastern Area Studies.  They could then correctly determine that my opinion on string theory need not be considered, or given very little weight.  Yet if I gave an opinion on the politics of the Gulf Cooperation Counsel, many people would probably be interested in that.  

          Everyone is entitled to an opinion.  I said nothing about the OPs opinion.

          It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

          by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:39:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  As much as I would love to regail you with tales (0+ / 0-)

        of woe, I am just not in the mood today. I can tell by your post that you are some kind of --- with some kind of ax to grind and I am not in the mood to trade blows with the likes of you.

        If you don't know why someone would put a post like that up then you either never served, you are in denial, or you just don't care.

        Take your pick.

        I wish it were otherwise for women in the service, but it's not. You have no idea how bad I wish it were different for all of us.

        Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

        by GreenMother on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 07:57:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That would be difficult to do... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...across multiple jurisdictions, during wartime, or even when faced with the usual duty transfers of military life.

      I certainly support strengthening the victim advocate program (including keeping better tabs on advocates/counselors and getting the dirtballs out of those positions), and I can get behind the notion of designating trained/experienced JAG personnel to advise commanders (and Article 32 investigating officers) on sexual assault matters...but bringing in a civilian authority for "just this one piece" of the military justice system is asking for trouble.

      The immediate thought is that the involvement of civilian authorities leads to jurisdictional issues with civilian courts.  (After all, if you had a problem with that civilian authority, you couldn't bring a military justice action against them - they aren't subject to the UCMJ, right?)  Diverting any part of this level of military justice to civilian authorities, or even opening the door to the possibility, is a horrendously bad idea, for reasons that I won't go into here unless someone is particularly interested in the question.

      The military justice system is separate from that of the civilian world in all phases save one--penultimate and ultimate appeal of court martial verdicts are granted/heard by civilian judges of  the CAAF and the SCOTUS--for very good reasons.  I think we need to keep it that way.

      The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

      by wesmorgan1 on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:01:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Give it up (0+ / 0-)

        there is no room for facts or informed debate here.

        There is no vision for second order impacts.  There is only an ASSUMPTION based on no fact that what ever the military is doing now is wrong, has always been wrong and always be wrong.  Never mind the civilian conviction rate is worse than the militaries.  Never mind the civilian assault rate is worse than the militaries.  Never mind victims are protected far better in military courts.  Never mind military cases are complete before most civilian cases see a grand jury.  No, those are all facts and unwelcome here.

        Military Bad.  bad Military.

        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:16:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are a real jerk and uninformed (0+ / 0-)

          What facts would you have?

          Women labeled as mentally ill after being raped and then denied their benefits because the VA claims pre-existing conditions?

          Did you know that it has only been in the last decade that the VA even bothered to start putting together treatment options for female vets?

          They are so ignorant of women's health, that they had to be reminded to not put OBGYN exam tables facing butt first at the doors to the waiting rooms.

          And that's just after the fact, we aren't talking about the problems of active duty females

          That's been going on since the Vietnam era. Maybe even longer than that.

          You act as if this is a recent problem that just popped up all of the sudden.

          This is a long term, culturally saturated, chronic disease that afflicts the entire service, but that most heavily takes it's toll on female service members.

          Your shity attitude has pissed me off so badly, that I am literally shaking, as I type this out, because it reeks of ignorance, mean spiritedness and just flat out shitiness.

          You have absolutely 110% no idea what a harassment or rape victims in the service goes through with their command. If you did, you wouldn't post crap like that.

          You should go home and meditate on mindfulness and then open your eyes and observe silently and mindfully.

          I truly hope that one day you get a clue to the incredibly wrong position you have taken here, and why, because then, maybe ---just maybe you might learn a thing or two.

          Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

          by GreenMother on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 08:05:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You are absolutely correct (0+ / 0-)

            I am ignorant of women's health issues because I am neither a woman or a health care provider.  I do have a daughter and a wife so I have a passing knowledge of some issues.  But I never claimed to be an expert in women's health and I never challenged your knowledge of the subject.  In fact, you will not find women's health issues in the post I responded to or my post so I not really sure where you decided I needed to learn about women's health issues.  

            I have no doubt that the VA has been slow to come up to speed on the unique aspects of women's health.  Of the total population of 22.2 million vets, females are roughly 1.8 million - about 10%.  And most of those are recent additions to the vet pool as opposed to the much larger population of male vets that stretches back to WWII and beyond.  In 2009 - the most recent data available - the average female vet was 48 vs 63 for male vets.  That would put my wife - a female vet - just under the average.  She joined in 1989.  

            For someone who seems to know a lot about the VA you also seem shocked that a system with a customer base of geriatric men was ill prepared for young women.  Thats like getting mad at Victoria Secret for not having golf shirts and bermuda shorts or Banana Republic for not having panties and lace bras.  I supposed you would rather they ignore 90% of their mission.  Quick count - does VA spend more than 10% of its budget on women's health care?

            I have no idea about what rape victims go through?  Really?  So holding the hand of one of my solders while a nurse administers a rape kit didnt give me some perspective?  Hearing from my wife about being sexually harassed by a fellow soldiers who I knew and was friends with didn't help?  Serving on courts martial panels for rape cases didnt give me an idea of what happens to victims?  Having to arrest one of my own soldiers for rape wasnt educational?

            No, the reeking and ignorance is coming form you.  

            It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

            by ksuwildkat on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:28:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped and Rec'ed Because I Am Supportive ... (4+ / 0-)

    of the efforts with regard to eliminating sexual assault in the military.

    However, in the current climate, I'm afraid almost any diary about Congress could be titled, "Syria Likely to Delay Action on [fill in the blank with anything except 'repealing Obamacare']."

    "A famous person once said, 'You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' But as I once said, "If you don't teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like." – Max Headroom

    by midnight lurker on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 09:58:38 AM PDT

  •  Syria, the Big Distraction (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Sucking up all the energy, effort, and attention away from all the critically important issues that SHOULD be at the forefront; this issue, the immigration bill, gun control, ending the sequester cuts, Obamacare rollout, appointing judges, and about a dozen others... for HOW long? More weeks? Months?

    "Communism is mandate by Christian based humanity of the Western culture. Vive la revolution!"

    by Fordmandalay on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 03:24:28 PM PDT

    •  If you think it is a distraction now wait for the (0+ / 0-)

      sequal:  the non-intervention, intervention in Syria.  

      Syria, once proud jewel of Islam has  the power to come to peace.  Damascus, what do you see that we do not see, (Mr. Optometrist Assad).  And they said you were shy and reserved, but you are now.  And we will remember your name and that of your family:  how should we see you in the future.   How will Damascus say your name when it survives you, I hope.

  •  Another Plea For Peace (0+ / 0-)

    Do we ask personnel on high alert and also getting ready to go to Syria in some capacity to handle a major intervention in which people will get killed and at the same time integrate the most major changes to the history of the military?  If this is enacted it must be in time of relative peace on the planet and the USA is not so dominant on the planet as it does in times of world conflict.  I am assuming this policy if enacted will fundamentally change everything in the military.  Think of all the cases of sexual assault that will be impacted, but greater still is the change in interactive behavior between males and females and therefore all genders as defined.  The military will lead on this but it must be done right, not dealt with off handedly,  and off handedly I mean with little or miniscule funds.  To do this and fight a war, I doubt it.  One will get short changed.  

  •  We have more important things to do (0+ / 0-)

    Things like killing Syrian civilians to save them.  And maybe lying to the world (again).  And making the U.S. look really, really stupid and inept and rudderless.  I'm sorry if this offends all the Obama diehards out there, but this second term sure seems to be taking a long, long time to pass.  I'd hoped for better.  

    Romae in die non combureretur.

    by Not A Bot on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 03:59:48 PM PDT

  •  Those Syrians.... (0+ / 0-)

    tossing chemical weapons around to thwart our attempts at protecting victims of sexual assault.



    Building Community. Creating Jobs. Donating Art to Community Organizations. Support the Katalogue

    by UnaSpenser on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 05:15:25 PM PDT

  •  What in the world? (0+ / 0-)

    Anything going on in Syria has NOTHING to do with sexual assault in the US military.

    Lets be clear about this - Commanders will retain UCMJ authority over members of their command.  Period.  Full Stop.  Commanders will retain the authority to prosecute ALL crimes committed by members of their command.  Period.  Full Stop.

    The utter idiocy of a system where SOME crimes are prosecute under one system and other crimes under another is simply amazing.

    How to you say "sexual assault is too hard" for simple little commanders but murder isn't?  How do you start with a presumption of innocence (remember, that is how we do things) and then say "we need to send this to a special court because the last one didn't have enough guilty verdicts."

    Can you IMAGINE if you did this in the civil courts?  "Listen, we have had way too many murders going free based on 'DNA' and 'evidence' so we are going to set up a special murder only court with different rules."  How about different courts based on race...or gender...or sexual orientation.  No, we have civil courts and criminal courts, not rape courts or murder courts or white courts or Asian courts.  

    Shame on you Senators, SHAME.

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 05:58:18 PM PDT

    •  I agree with you (0+ / 0-)

      that Syria has nothing to do with sexual assault in the U.S. military. My one question is always, Since the military has a long-term failing record on dealing with sexual assault, including and after military leaders got up repeatedly and told Congress the military is a zero-tolerance organization, what are they going to suddenly start doing that they weren't committed to doing before, that will actually work?

      They've failed, and that's been OK with military culture. They need an intervention, even if only temporarily.

      I'm amazed by people's courage and kindness in the face of everything and life.

      by LaraJones on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:13:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Failed? Yes, by OUR standards (0+ / 0-)

        Lets start with some simple facts:

        The total active duty force is approximately 1.4 million people.

        Reserve and Guard - 1.1 million

        Department of Defense Civilians:  800,000

        Total DoD population:  3.2 million people

        Reported sexual  - FORMAL COMPLAINTS - assaults last year - 3300

        Reported "sexual" incidents - to include verbal (jokes), visual (pictures, posters), assaults - through INFORMAL, anonymous reporting - 26,000

        Now even taking the smallest population - active duty only - and the largest reporting group - anonymous reports that include dirty jokes - we are talking about a fraction of a percent.  

        Yet I agree with you, its a failure because even ONE is a failure.  It means a leader failed someone.  It means a buddy failed.  It means the system failed.  

        On the other hand, in most of life, 99% is pretty darn good.  In baseball failing 3 out of 10 times gets you into the hall of fame.  In football 70% gets you MVP.  We are not talking about failing most soldiers.  We are talking about a fraction of a fraction.  And that is only using the worst computing possible.  

        It is easy to sit on the sidelines and snipe and say "oh you are not doing enough."  Well until you get up, sign up and DO SOMETHING, please SHUT UP.

        It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

        by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 07:51:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I think that if some folks realized... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...that the UCMJ penalities for sexual assault often provide for harsher penalties than do the corresponding civilian laws, they might not be so quick to suggest diverting those crimes to civilian courts.

      The last soldier executed by the US military was convicted of rape and attempted murder.  He was hanged in 1961.

      I found a source with 2002 stats for Leavenworth:

      * Of 436 inmates, more than 10% were on death row (5), serving life without parole (5), or serving life sentences (46).

      * The average sentence being served was 18.8 years.

      * 88% of inmates were imprisoned for crimes against persons.

      * 51% of inmates were imprisoned for sexual crimes.

      * 6% of inmates were imprisoned for drug crimes.

      I don't think folks realize just how harsh the UCMJ can be for sexual crimes.  Fix what's broken--the execution of the process--not the process itself.

      The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

      by wesmorgan1 on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:28:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Where the heck do you come up with this stuff (0+ / 0-)

    Please tell me about ONE SINGLE sexual assault program that has been halted, reduced, scaled back or otherwise been impacted by ANYTHING going on in Syria?  Just one.  Find me one.  Have fun looking.

    I hate to break it to you but 99% of the military could care less about Syria.  If you are not on one of those boats your life is not impacted by syria.  If you are not an intelligence analyst with syria as a full time job you dont give more than 5 minutes of thought to Syria.  THe average DKer cares WAY MORE about Syria than almost anyone in the military.  

    Please, try for just a few minutes to live in a fact based world when it comes to the military.  For that matter, come visit us.  I will personally take you to every program on the three bases in my area to show you that NOTHING has changed based on Syria.

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 06:12:23 PM PDT

  •  Please explain (0+ / 0-)

    You have written MANY diaries about this topic and yet NOT ONCE have you explained how removing commanders from the process will make them care about sexual assaults MORE.

    Please give me ONE example anywhere in life where making someone not responsible for something has made them take more responsibility for it.  Just one.  

    Please tell me how we can get rid of commanders who dont take sexual assault seriously by telling them it is no longer their responsibility.  How can we hold them accountable when your proposal will make them not accountable?

    Please tell me how we get more command emphasis for something by removing commanders from the process?

    Do you have any idea how command works?  Dont you know that if you take something away from a commander it doesnt become the lowest priority, it disappears completely.  In fact any commander who was doing and activity that was not part of his command should be relieved on the spot.  If its not his job he better not be doing it.

    Finally, please tell me how many other areas are too hard for commanders to deal with?  Do we have Rape courts and all others?  Or do we have Rape courts, racial discrimination courts, sexual discrimination courts, etc, etc, etc?

    I would LVOE to hear your response.  I doubt I will get one but who knows.

    It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it. Robert E. Lee

    by ksuwildkat on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 08:10:50 PM PDT

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