Comprehensive Resource Center for the Military Justice Improvement Act

Introduction

Looking to end the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, a bipartisan coalition of 55 Senators - 44 Democrats and 11 Republicans - came together to reverse the systemic fear that victims of military sexual assault have described in deciding whether or not to report the crimes committed against them due to the clear bias and inherent conflicts of interest posed by the military chain of command’s current sole decision-making power over whether cases move forward to a trial. While this common sense proposal was filibustered on the Senate floor, the fight to pass this critically needed reform continues.

The carefully crafted Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) S.1752, moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, with the exception of crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave. The decision whether to prosecute 37 serious crimes uniquely military in nature, plus all crimes punishable by less than one year of confinement, would remain within the chain of command.

According to the FY2012 SAPRO report released earlier this year by the Defense Department:

  • An estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assaults occurred in FY2012, a 37% increase from FY2011.

  • 25% of women and 27% of men who received unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command.

  • 50% of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done with their report.

  • Of the 3,374 total reports in 2012, only 2,558 reports were unrestricted, which means they were actionable. Of those unrestricted reports, 27 percent were for rape, 35 percent were for abusive and wrongful sexual contact, and 28 percent were for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault. The remaining cases were for aggravated sexual contact, nonconsensual sodomy, indecent assault and attempts to commit those offenses.

  • Across the Services, 74% of females and 60% of males perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault. 62% of victims who reported a sexual assault indicated they perceived some form of professional, social, and/or administrative retaliation. 

Another report released by the Defense Department this year showed that more than 1 in 5 female servicemembers reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military. Even the current top military leadership admits the current system “has failed” and as Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos stated this year, victims do not come forward because “they don’t trust the chain of command.”

The problem of sexual assault in the military is not new, neither are the pledges of “zero tolerance” from commanders, which date all the way back to then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992. Many of our allied modern militaries have moved reporting outside of the chain of command, such as Britain, Canada, Israel, Germany, Norway and Australia. At a September 2013 hearing, military leaders from Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel and Canada testified on how changes they’ve made to their justice systems — including the one up for debate in the Senate — haven’t caused problems for their commanders.

The Military Justice Improvement Act also:

  • Provides the offices of the military chiefs of staff with the authority and discretion to establish courts, empanel juries and choose judges to hear cases (i.e. convening authority).

  • This legislation does not amend Article 15. Commanding officers will still be able to order non-judicial punishment for lesser offenses not directed to trial by the prosecutors.

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