Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus, leading Senate advocates for taking strong steps to combat military sexual assault, this week helped usher in a new era in the battle to better protect and empower sexual assault survivors, increase prosecutions and hold military commanders accountable.
Tester and Baucus on Thursday led the Senate in passing landmark sexual assault reforms as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan measure, which passes Congress each year, includes provisions that make sure assault survivors have access to a lawyer, require civilian review if commanders decline to prosecute a case and establish minimum sentencing guidelines for service members found guilty of sexual assault.
"There is no place for sexual assault in our society or in our military," Tester said. "These are major steps to empower survivors and hold commanders more accountable for their actions. We still have more work to do to make sure survivors get the benefits they need and to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military, but this is a good start."
"We need to do everything we can to support survivors of military sexual assault make our military justice system more accountable," Baucus said. "Our brave military men and women make great sacrifices on our behalf, and I'm proud to support these efforts to end the sexual assault crisis in the military. I'm determined to ensuring our troops can protect our country without fear of assault."
Key provisions that passed the Senate in Thursday's bipartisan vote:
* Require civilian review if a military commander declines to prosecute a case;
* Strip military commanders of their authority to overturn court martial convictions;
* Provide legal counsel to survivors of sexual assault;
* Allow survivors of sexual assault to apply for a permanent change of station or unit transfer;
* Establish minimum sentencing guidelines when service members are found guilty of sexual assault-related offenses; and
* Require that interviews of survivors be conducted in the presence of trial counsel
Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, is also focused on making sure survivors get the benefits they need. Earlier this year, he introduced the Ruth Moore Act to make it easier for survivors of sexual assault in the military to get VA benefits.
At a press conference in May, Tester said the VA must do more to help survivors and bring fairness to the VA's disability claims process.
Baucus and Tester earlier this year introduced legislation to ensure that military members who come forward to report sexual assault are not harassed and intimidated while seeking justice.
The bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act also includes language pushed by Tester to modernize and reform the security clearance process. The bill will allow federal agencies to conduct a joint study to find ways to plug holes in the process and make it more efficient to save taxpayer dollars.