The Senate Armed Services Committee today adopted, by a vote of 17-9, a bipartisan amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act cosponsored by U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) that would combat sexual assault in the military by making robust changes to the military justice system.
The amendment alters the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to:
Trigger an automatic review of any sexual assault case by a Service Secretary when a commander overturns the recommendation of a military legal advisor to prosecute that case
Require, when a military legal advisor recommends and a commander agrees not to refer a sexual assault case to trial by court martial, that the next higher level commander review that decision
Make it a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to retaliate against a victim who reports a criminal offense
The amendment's provision to make retaliation a punishable offense under the UCMJ falls in line with Senator King's suggestion from a June 4th Armed Services hearing, where he pressed top military officials to define "an offense of retaliation for reporting for one these crimes because non-reporting is the big problem here."
During the markup, Senator King said:
"I believe in any organization the leader sets the tone, and that's what we're talking about here: tone and culture. And if you take the commander of the unit out of the equation, then, as Senator Kaine mentioned, you're sending a message that we don't trust these folks. But also basically that commander then can say, "Ok, this isn't my problem anymore.' And we want it to be their problem. I think that the engagement of the leader of the group, at whatever level, is a terribly important part of the solution of this problem. The target is the failure to report, and I think if we can establish that retaliation itself is an offense, that, I believe, will be a very important contribution in addition to the safeguards that are the heart of your proposal."
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King has also pushed members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior military leaders to make cultural changes within the service in order to fully and effectively eradicate sexual assault within the ranks.