Today, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.) and U.S. Representatives Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to combat sexual assaults in the military by better holding perpetrators accountable and better protecting survivors. The updated version of the group's legislation includes additional provisions to protect and enhance the rights of victims. The lawmakers are working to include the legislation in this year's National Defense Authorization Act.
"The problems the U.S. military have had dealing with this issue--whether it's aggressively prosecuting perpetrators or effectively protecting survivors--are well chronicled and have gone on far too long," said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a former county prosecutor and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It's time for the reforms contained in this bill, and I'm going to work with my colleagues in both chambers and in both parties to ensure that they're enacted."
"The Department of Defense has a no-tolerance policy towards sexual assault, but the culture does not match that policy," said U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "Individuals who commit acts of rape or sexual assault have no place in the United States Armed Forces, an institution that depends upon the high standards, ethics, and character of its service members. This is an unacceptable situation and we must work together to address it."
"With more outrageous revelations regarding sexual assault in the military, it's clear further action is needed on this issue. By updating the BE SAFE Act, which we have included in this year's House NDAA, we will be taking those additional steps. Specifically, enhanced rights for victims provided in this bill will ensure they not being re-victimized and are treated with respect through the judicial proceedings. I'd like to thank my colleagues, Sens. Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, as well as Rep. Niki Tsongas for their continued dedication to combating sexual assault in our nation's military," said Congressman Mike Turner, Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.
"I became involved in this issue six years ago when a female soldier told me she was more afraid of her fellow soldiers than she was of the enemy. She carried a knife in her waistband on-base in case she ever needed to fight back. That's why we introduced this legislation -- to fight back. Our bill is an important first step at looking to change the power of commanders and bring power back to those who have had it ripped away. Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues here this morning, we are seeing bipartisan support in the House and Senate and have put this bill on a good path to becoming law," said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus
The bill contains reforms to better address sexual assault prosecutions and aid survivors including provisions that:
· Remove the convening authority's ability to change or dismiss an adjudged court-martial conviction for any charge or specification except for a charge or specification for a minor offense.
· Require a convening authority to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence, and require that they receive input from the victim.
· Require that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge
· Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations on Trial by Courts-Martial for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child.
This group of lawmakers had previously sponsored the Coast Guard STRONG Act, which applies protections enacted in other branches of the military to the United States Coast Guard.