Grassley: military justice reform should remove sexual assault cases from chain of command

Senator Chuck Grassley today joined in calling for an independent military justice system and reiterated his support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, which is up for a Senate vote next week.


Grassley is an original cosponsor of this bipartisan measure introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, which would move the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.  Thirty-seven crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave, would be excepted and remain within the chain of command.


In a statement issued today, Grassley said:


“Sexual assault is a law enforcement matter, not a military one.  For decades, the Department of Defense has claimed a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual assault.  Well, the status quo isn’t working.  We’ve run out of time to try more cautious reforms.


“The Military Justice Improvement Act is a reform with bipartisan support.  It would give members of the Armed Forces more confidence in the military system of justice and contribute to improved morale and recruitment and retention of troops.  When young people make the commitment to serve their country in uniform and put themselves in harm’s way to defend and protect America’s freedoms, they deserve to know their rights will be protected, including access to justice.  This legislation does justice to the U.S. military code of honor, which is based on integrity and fidelity to the rule of law.


“Oftentimes incremental changes are the best approach but something as serious and life-altering as sexual assault requires bold action, not in a few years or a little bit at a time, but right now.  I appreciate Senator Gillibrand’s commitment and leadership on this issue and the strength of the testimony from victims of sexual assault in the military and those who have served in uniform in leadership positions.”


Last September, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services voted overwhelmingly in support of removing the decision whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other serious crimes from the chain of command.  Ten committee members voted in support of the measure, six abstained to study further, none voted against.  Civilian and retired military women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense serve on this committee to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces.  Historically, its recommendations have been instrumental in effecting changes to laws and policies pertaining to military women.


According to a report of the Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response Office of the Department of Defense, an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in fiscal 2012, a 37 percent increase from fiscal 2011.  In addition, the report said 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who received unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command.  Fifty percent of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done.  A separate report released by the Defense Department this year showed that more than one in five female service members reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.


Forty-four Democratic senators and nine Republican senators have expressed public support for the Military Justice Improvement Act.