Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a 23-year Navy veteran, cosponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act (S. 967) in response to a recent Department of Defense (DOD) report detailing the sexual assault crisis in the military. According to the report, about 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in fiscal year 2012, up 37 percent from fiscal year 2011, while victims only reported about 3,200 of these assaults up their chain of command. Nearly 75 percent of females and 60 percent of males in the military indicated that they believe barriers exist to reporting sexual assaults, while over 60 percent of victims who reported a sexual assault perceive some form of retaliation.
This legislation would remove the decision on whether to go to court martial for all offenses punishable by one year or more in jail -- not just sexual assaults -- from the chain of command and place it within the jurisdiction of experienced military prosecutors. These offenses are akin to felonies in the civilian criminal justice system, and exceptions would be made for offenses unique to the military like absence without leave and disobeying orders.
"Serving our men and women in uniform as well as they serve us means more than just arming them adequately on the battlefield or providing them with education and job training benefits; it means protecting their safety, legal rights and dignity," said Sen. Carper. "The current military justice system can be improved so that it works better for victims of heinous crimes like sexual assault. Placing the decisions to prosecute cases like these in the hands of trained JAG officers within the military increases accountability within our armed forces and gives victims the confidence to report these crimes knowing that they will be taken seriously. Ultimately, there is no silver bullet for this troubling situation, but this bill ensures that justice will be better served."
Sen. Carper completed five years of service as a naval flight officer, serving three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and continued to serve in the Naval Reserve as a P-3 aircraft mission commander until retiring with the rank of captain in 1991 after 23 years of military service.