Dr. Dan Benishek (MI-01) today announced that a bipartisan and diverse coalition of lawmakers, including many in the Michigan Congressional Delegation, have already endorsed his legislation to address the high level of sexual assaults in the U.S. military by allowing independent military prosecutors to handle assault cases. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has authored the same legislation in the U.S. Senate which has received widespread and growing bipartisan support.
Forty-eight lawmakers in the House of Representatives have endorsed the legislation, including Michigan representatives Rep. Justin Amash (MI-03), Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11), Rep. Dave Camp (MI-04), Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-02), Rep. Daniel Kildee (MI-05), Rep. Candice Miller (MI-10), Rep. Fred Upton (MI-06), and Rep. Tim Walberg (MI-07).
"It's clear that we need to reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases. Victims in Northern Michigan and across the country have told me this is exactly the change we need to address this tragic situation. Our bipartisan coalition in Michigan is evidence that both sides agree that sexual assault cases should be handled by independent military prosecutors. I encourage all of my colleagues--Republicans and Democrats--to join our effort and help protect the brave men and women who protect us each and every day," said Dr. Benishek, a medical doctor from the Upper Peninsula and father of a Navy veteran.
"What our strong and growing bipartisan coalition has shown is that ending sexual assaults in the military by creating an independent and accountable military justice system is not a partisan or ideological issue. Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea -- it is just the right idea," said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
"Our men and women serving in uniform deserve a military justice system that is fair, objective, and transparent. The fact is our current system is broken. Our bill takes the decision to prosecute violent sexual crimes out of the chain of command and puts it into the hands of highly trained investigators and prosecutors. The Military Justice Improvement Act aims to end conflicts of interest, bias and fear of retaliation, while maintaining a commander's authority and ability to lead. This is not a partisan issue. It is an effort to ensure our service-members are treated with the respect and dignity they have earned," said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-02).
"The brave men and women who serve our country should have access to a fair and impartial criminal justice system. I am proud to join Dr. Benishek in proposing this important legislation," said Rep. Justin Amash (MI-03).
"Sexual assault is an increasingly prevalent problem in our military. This bipartisan bill helps ensure that our servicemembers receive justice, which is critical to maintaining the moral integrity of our Armed Forces," said Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, an Army veteran from Southeast Michigan.
"While the military is a vital institution, it's clear a change in how sexual assault is addressed within the ranks is warranted. Congressman Benishek's legislation is a pragmatic approach to addressing assault in the military and I believe will create a stronger culture and safer environment for our women and men in uniform," said Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-02).
"Our men and women in uniform should be able to serve in an environment free from sexual assault," Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) said. "The pervasiveness of sexual misconduct in the armed forces is a national security issue of the gravest concern; our military must attract, mentor and retain only the most talented, committed and patriotic citizens to remain the most capable force in the world and the prevalence of sexual assault hinders this objective."
"Our Military Members serve our nation bravely in defense of freedom and liberty, and it is our duty to ensure that the military system properly protects and supports each and every soldier. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation which will help make positive reforms to the current system and ensure that a safer environment is in place to protect those who serve America," said Rep. Candice Miller (MI-10).
"Our military's current system is broken and failing to protect those who have sacrificed so much to keep their nation safe and secure. This bipartisan legislation will help fix that problem and create a safer environment for all who answer our nation's call. The brave men and women of our Armed Forces have our full support on the field of battle -- they deserve no less behind the frontlines and here at home. The last thing a sexual assault victim should have to worry about is whether they will receive justice or retaliation," said Rep. Fred Upton (MI-06).
The "Military Justice Improvement Act," which Dr. Benishek introduced in the House, will reform the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted by allowing independent military prosecutors outside of the victim's chain of command, the ability to bring a case to trial. This change would bring the U.S. military justice system in line with that of many of our military allies, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, Norway and Israel, which all allow these crimes to be investigated and brought to trial outside the chain of command.
The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military and only 3,400 were reported--meaning 87 percent of sexual assaults in the military last year went unreported.
Other Members of Congress who have endorsed the legislation are Rep. Michele Bachman (MN-06), Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Rep. Timothy Bishop (NY-01), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Rep. Andre Carson (IN-07), Rep. Tom Cole (OK-04), Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), Rep. Bill Flores (TX-17), Rep. Tusli Gabbard (HI-02), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), Rep. Richard Hanna (NY-22), Rep. Bill Huizenga (MI-02), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Lynn Jenkins (KS-02),Rep. Ann Kuster (NH-02), Rep. Tom Latham (IA-03), Rep. David Loebsack (IA-02), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Rep. Nita Lowey (NY-17), Rep. Edward J. Markey (MA-05), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04), Rep. James McGovern (MA-02), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Rep. Beto O'Rourke (TX-16), Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Rep. Bill Posey (FL-08), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Rep. Janice Schakowsky (IL-09), Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI-05), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04), Rep. Steve Stivers (OH-15), Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-03), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Debbie Schultz Wasserman (FL-23), and Rep. Don Young (AK).
Facts on the Military Justice Improvement Act:
-According to estimates provided by the Department of Defense, 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military last year. This is an increase of 30 percent from 2011. 87 percent of these assaults went unreported. 62 percent of those who reported a sexual assault reported some type of retaliation.
-This legislation would bring the US military justice system in line with that of many of our military allies, including the UK, Canada, and Israel, which all allow these crimes to be brought to trial outside the chain of command.
-The bill only applies to felony-level crimes that would call for a year or more of imprisonment. The current system would stay in place for misdemeanors.
-The bill has an additional carve out for military-specific crimes, such as leaving your post, being drunk when on duty, or misbehavior before the enemy. This makes it clear that commanders will still retain the authority they need to enforce standards in their units.
-This legislation has been endorsed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Army Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Service Women's Action Network.