Military To Push To Combat Sexual Assault

( After years of stonewalling by both the Pentagon and lawmakers, Congress is finally moving forward with legislation to address how the military handles sexual assault claims.

On Thursday, May 13, the Defense Department released its annual report on sexual assaults in the military which revealed that in 2020 6,290 incidents of sexual assault were reported by service members – an increase of one percent from 2019.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has for years been advocating for changes within the military to better combat sexual assault within its ranks told MSNBC’s Morning Joe last Friday that she currently has 61 bipartisan cosponsors for the Senate bill known as the “Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.”

Gillibrand went on to say that she believes the Senate will pass the bill easily since over 70 Senators are currently supporting it.

Meanwhile, Representative Mike Turner (R-OH) is leading the effort in the House to overhaul how the military handles sexual assault claims.

Currently, the decision whether or not to prosecute sexual assaults as well as other serious crimes is left in the hands of military commanders – a policy Gillibrand has sought to change years.

The hope of the legislation is to put the decision to prosecute into the hands of specially trained military prosecutors rather than unit commanders.

The concern among those who oppose this legislation is that bypassing the chain of command would have a negative impact on unit cohesion.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley used to be among those who objected to the changes. But after the Pentagon conducted a series of internal surveys that revealed the actual number of sexual assaults within the ranks was much higher than those reported, he changed his mind.

According General Milley, these survey put the number of men and women sexually assaulted in 2020 at roughly 20,000.

In addition to the legislation in the Senate, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) also reintroduced a House bill named after Vanessa Guillén – the Army Specialist who was murdered by a fellow serviceman at Ford Hood last April shortly after she informed her family that she was being sexually harassed.

Speier’s bill has the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as House Armed Service Committee Chair Adam Walsh (D-WA).