U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today spoke to top Army officials about early successes of a newly-enacted reform to curb sexual assault in the military-the appointment of a Special Victims Counsel for victims who report an assault, to protect their rights and fight for their interests through the court-martial process.
McCaskill questioned Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno in an Armed Services Committee hearing, which comes on the heels of news reports showing the early successes of the Special Victims Counsel in these cases.
"General Odierno, I know that you have stood up the Special Victims Counsel in the Army with great rapidity, and I'm very proud of that," said McCaskill, a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes and senior member of the Armed Services Committee. "I know that there are hundreds of victims that have gotten their own counsel as a result of you prioritizing that, and all of us appreciate it very much."
McCaskill also addressed the role of the Special Victims Counsel and the commander in the recent court-martial case of Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair.
"If it had not been for the commander, that case would have been over," McCaskill emphasized.
"The Special Victims Counsel-a captain-who was working with that victim, wrote a letter to the command, saying this case should not be dropped," McCaskill added. "That Special Victims Counsel was doing exactly what the Senate and the House and the President signed into law-advocating for that victim in that environment. That victims counsel couldn't have been more correct in what she did."
"I hold quarterly advisory councils," General Odierno responded. "I bring in victims and advocates from around the Army-I just held one last week. And the one message that was absolutely clear from everyone in that meeting was the importance of the special victim advocate. And the difference that is making with each and every one of our victims and survivors that go through this. So we are absolutely dedicated to this, and we believe it's showing great benefit for us as we go through the process."
Of the major, historic reforms enacted last year to combat sexual assaults in the military, McCaskill has said that the Special Victims Counsel alone has made the UCMJ one of "the most victim-friendly in the world." Those reforms include:
* Stripping commanders of the ability to overturn jury convictions,
* Requiring civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case,
* Assigning victims their own independent legal counsel to protect their rights and fight for their interests,
* Mandating dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sexual assault,
* Criminalizing retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault,
* Eliminating the statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases,
* And reforming the pre-trial "Article-32" process to better protect victims.