U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin has co-sponsored three bipartisan bills to address sexual assault in the military. Taken together, the legislation would work to prevent sexual assault in the military; provide strengthened health services for victims of sexual assault; and reform the military justice system so that military prosecutors - instead of commanders - would have the independent authority to decide whether or not felony cases go to trial.
"The men and women in our armed forces serve with courage in defense of our freedom every single day," Baldwin said, "It is time for Congress to show the same courage and provide solutions to the ongoing crisis of sexual assault in the military. The system is broken and it's long past time we fix it. Our service men and women deserve better and it is time to act."
The Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2013, S. 548, is a measure sponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R- AK). It would prevent sexual offenders from serving in the military, improve tracking and review of sexual assault claims in the military, and help ensure victims have access to the justice they deserve.
The Ruth Moore Act of 2013, S. 294, is legislation offered by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) which has gained bipartisan support. The bill makes it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to get the veterans' disability benefits they need. More than 85 percent of all military sexual assaults go unreported, which means veterans seeking treatment and support for military sexual trauma have a hard time meeting the burden of proof when applying for benefits. The legislation makes it easier for veterans to qualify for benefits, requiring they show a medical diagnosis of a mental health condition rather than a concrete, documented link between an assault and that mental health condition.
The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S. 967, is legislation introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that has earned bipartisan support. The legislation would reform the military justice system so that military prosecutors - instead of commanders - would have the independent authority to decide whether or not felony cases go to trial. Under the current system, commanders have the discretion whether or not to prosecute a service member accused of sexual assault. They also have the ability to lessen or overturn a judge or jury's conviction. Senator Gillibrand's legislation would reform Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make the military justice system independent at the felony level.
According to a 2012 report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Meanwhile, overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012. According to the report, across the Services, 74 percent of females and 60 percent of males perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault. In addition, 62 percent of victims who reported a sexual assault indicated they perceived some form of professional, social, and/or administrative retaliation.
A separate report released late last month by the Department of Defense showed that more than one in five female service members reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.