U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today released the following statement after the Response Systems Panel, which was created in the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to look at how to combat sexual assault in the military, announced that its review of U.S. military allies that have moved to systems that completely removed commanders from any role in the legal process found that those changes did not lead to an increase in the reporting for sexual assaults:
"The panel's diligent work confirms what we already knew-that allied countries completely removing their commanders from all military legal proceedings did so largely to protect the rights of the accused and that they saw no corresponding increase in reporting of sexual assaults. I'm determined to make sure that any policy I'm fighting for is well-grounded in solutions that will responsibly address this epidemic, and that means facts and data have to matter. The fact remains that stripping commanders of their responsibilities will not increase reporting, but we do know that doing so would reduce prosecutions and leave victims more susceptible to retaliation."
The Response Systems Panel was set up as part of the 2013 NDAA to examine the military's response to reports of sexual assault and to make recommendations to improve that response. The panel's findings, which were based on detailed analysis of U.S. military allies that had removed military commanders from any role in prosecutions, found that those countries saw no corresponding increase in reporting of military sexual assault. The panel also reported that the reason our allies chose to change their systems was often to strengthen the rights of the accused-not to increase reporting of military sexual assault.
McCaskill, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, has relentlessly fought to combat sexual assaults in the military. Earlier this year, the Armed Services Committee gave approval to a series of aggressive, historic reforms addressing sexual assault, including bipartisan, bicameral provisions by McCaskill that will significantly boost accountability for perpetrators and protections for survivors.
McCaskill's reforms include provisions to strip commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, install civilian review over decisions to not prosecute cases, mandate dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault, make it a crime to retaliate against victims who report a sexual assault, provide a Special Victims Counsel to give independent legal advice to servicemembers who report a sexual assault, and eliminate the statute of limitations in these cases.
Supporters of an alternative proposal have asserted that the current military justice system is inherently biased against victims and is unworkable if military commanders retain the ability to launch court-martial proceedings. However, in the past year, military leaders have aggressively pursued accountability for military commanders who fail to address sexual harassment and assault in their units, and have worked to establish an environment that encourages reporting, protects victims, and ensures those accused of wrongdoing are held accountable.
McCaskill pointed to new statistics of drastically increased reporting as a strong indicator that retaining a limited role for commanders, while instituting historic, aggressive reforms, is the key for curbing sexual assaults.