Amid Continuing Surge in Reports of Sexual Assault Across the Military, Shaheen & Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act
**DoD’s most recent report estimates almost 21,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2018 despite repeated efforts to end scourge of sexual harassment and assault in the military**
**Bipartisan military justice reform legislation would create impartial, fair, and accountable military justice system for sexual assault and other serious crimes and provide additional prevention measures**
(Washington, DC) — Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined a bipartisan group of Senators led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in introducing the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act. This bipartisan military justice reform bill would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate.
“Recent data confirms that sexual assault in the military continues to surge and efforts to seek justice for survivors still faces bureaucratic roadblocks. It is long overdue that Congress take action to bring about the institutional change that is needed to protect those who serve our country,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m glad to join Senator Gillibrand to introduce the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act to make urgently needed and overdue reforms to combat sexual harassment and assault in the military. This bill would redirect the decision to try these crimes away from the military chain of command to independent, trained and impartial prosecutors. It would also increase prevention, training and education measures to combat sexual assault, among other action items. Last year we mourned the brutal murder of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who was sexually harassed and assaulted before her death. This tragic event further underscores the need for a robust response. Today, Congress is responding. I urge lawmakers to join us in this effort to keep our service members safe, help survivors seek justice and end this toxic culture.”
“Today is a historic day for survivors of military sexual assault and harassment. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Senator Gillibrand, survivors, and President Biden’s support, fundamental reform of the military justice system will become reality. I believe Senator Ernst’s support will prove to be the tipping point in the battle for reform, and her focus on prevention has strengthened this vital legislation. For years, senior military leaders have acknowledged that sexual assault and harassment are a cancer ripping at the fabric of the force. The passage of this critical legislation will increase our military’s readiness and ability to bring the fight to the enemy. And will finally provide a real opportunity for justice for survivors,” said Colonel Don Christensen, President of Protect Our Defenders.
"We are very optimistic in light of all the years of hard work by Sen. Gillibrand to gather new bipartisan support for this critical reform for the DoD," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler. "The status quo with our military chain of command's response to military sexual assault is not working and this continuing threat to our military requires this commonsense solution to protect our service members."
Since 2013, unrestricted reports of sexual assaults in the military have doubled, yet the rate of prosecution and conviction has been halved. One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, the most recent year data has been published by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD data also show there were nearly 21,000 instances of sexual assault — a massive increase over the 14,900 estimated in the previous 2016 survey. The number of women in the military who experienced sexual assault increased by 50%, from 8,600 in FY2016 to 13,000 in FY2018.
In 2014, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, said the military was “on the clock” to fix military sexual assault, and indicated it would be right to bring a bill back to the floor in a year if they hadn’t solved the problem. In the years since, incremental reforms have been implemented yet sexual assault in the military has remained pervasive and dramatically increased, with many service members still having little faith in the military justice system. Military justice experts agree that the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent-- in a report submitted to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees they argued that a senior judge advocate office outside of the chain of command should be charged with prosecutorial discretion in felony cases.
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would take critical steps to create a more professional and transparent military justice system for serious crimes — including rape and sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography, and negligent homicide — and address the need for sexual assault prevention that DoD has not implemented. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Move the decision on whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors, while leaving misdemeanors and uniquely military crimes within the chain of command. By moving this work off of the commander’s plate, it will empower commanders to focus on mission critical activities—while specifically preserving the authorities that a commander needs to provide strong leadership and a successful command climate.
- Ensure the Department of Defense supports criminal investigators and military prosecutors through the development of unique skills needed to properly handle investigations and cases related to sexual assault and domestic violence.
- Require the Secretary of Defense to survey and improve the physical security of military installations – including locks, security cameras, and other passive security measures – to increase safety in lodging and living spaces for service members.
- Increase, and improve training and education on military sexual assault throughout our armed services. This training would help shift the culture in the military and ensure that the armed services can enforce a no-tolerance zone for sexual assault and other grievous crimes.
The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).