Sweeping legislation introduced by 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.) to significantly reform how sexual assaults are handled in the military was approved Wednesday by the House Armed Services Committee as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These bipartisan reforms would be the most significant changes to the military justice system in years.
The legislation to combat sexual assaults earned approval by the House committee without any voice of opposition, and the underlying NDAA garnered overwhelming bipartisan support, with a vote of 59-2. The legislation was spearheaded by McCaskill and Collins' House counterparts, Representatives Turner and Tsongas and represents the clearest sign yet that Congress will make major reforms this year to the way the military handles cases of sexual assault in response to an ongoing crisis of sexual assault in the military.
"Serious reforms will be made in the way these cases are handled and the protections provided to survivors-with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, it's clear that it is only a matter of time now," said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, a former county prosecutor and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Today's progress wouldn't have been possible without the incredible amount of passion Mike Turner and Niki Tsongas have brought to this issue- and the Senate will be acting soon."
"The epidemic of sexual abuse in the military cannot stand. We must ensure that justice is swift and certain to the criminals who have perpetuated these crimes," said U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "I applaud my colleagues in the House, Representatives Turner and Tsongas for their hard work, and I pledge to continue working with Senator McCaskill to address this unacceptable situation."
The McCaskill-Collins legislation will soon be similarly considered during the Senate Armed Services Committee's markup of its version of the NDAA.
The bill, which will be debated next week in the Senate Armed Services Committee, contains reforms to better address sexual assault prosecutions and aid survivors, including provisions that:
Strips commanders, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, of their authority to dismiss court martial convictions for most offenses, including in cases of rape and sexual assault.
Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence.
Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, receive input from the victim before arriving at any decision during clemency proceedings.
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 for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child.
Require that all military victims of sexual assault be provided special counsel by the military to assist them in the legal process.
Require that a sexual assault survivor be entitled to have counsel present when being questioned by counsel for an accused.
Ensure the military has the authority to move an individual accused of sexual assault from a unit to protect a victim from unwanted contact with their alleged attacker, while sustaining a victim's right to request expedited transfer.