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Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) join Shaheen-supported measure to reform military justice system

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a leading voice in the fight against sexual assault in the military, today applauded the growing bipartisan momentum for a measure she has supported to improve accountability in handling of cases of sexual abuse in the United States Armed Forces. This morning U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced their support of the legislation, the Military Justice Improvement Act, which is co-sponsored by Shaheen and sponsored by Senators Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“Protecting our men and women in uniform is one of our most important responsibilities but sadly, the Pentagon has failed to reduce incidents of sexual assault in the military.  Removing responsibility for investigation and prosecution of these crimes from the chain of command will eliminate conflicts of interest, improve the professionalism of the handling of these crimes, and most importantly send a message to victims that the status quo will no longer be tolerated,” said Senator Shaheen.

The Military Justice Improvement Act would for the first time remove the decision whether to take a case to special or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced military prosecutors for all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going AWOL. The bill will be offered as an amendment when the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is debated on the full Senate floor, which is expected later this month. 

According to the Pentagon’s FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) report, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in FY2012, a 37% increase from FY2011. Another report released by the Defense Department late last month showed that more than 1 in 5 female servicemembers reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen has been a leader in fighting the crisis of sexual abuse in our Armed Forces and has worked extensively to provide care and services to victims.  Earlier this year, she introduced legislation with Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) requiring more rigorous screening and training of military sexual assault officers after multiple Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) officers were accused of sexual assault. The bipartisan measure received broad support and in the Senate Armed Services Committee and will be included in the National Defense Authorization (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014.

In April, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) honored Shaheen for her work to eliminate discrimination and sexual violence in the military. She has also repeatedly pressed the White House and the Pentagon to act to address the military’s sexual assault crisis and has spoken out consistently on the issue.