Comprehensive Resource Center for the Military Justice Improvement Act
Over the last two years, there has been a stream of national headlines and new investigative reports exposing the military’s failure to combat sexual assault in the ranks and/or provide a military justice system that holds assailants accountable in order to maintain good order and discipline. Despite incremental reforms passed in the last two National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA), and a sharp focus on the issue of military sexual assault in Congress, the latest Pentagon survey found that 62 percent of women who reported being sexually assaulted experienced retaliation. The amount of retaliation remains unchanged from 2012, while the estimated number of unwanted sexual contacts remains at 2010 levels – an average of 52 new cases every day.
The latest FY 2014 SAPRO report by the Defense Department shows military leaders failing at its mission of “zero tolerance” for sexual assault first stated over twenty years ago. The report showed that 75 percent of the men and women in uniform who have been sexually assaulted lack the confidence in the military justice system to come forward and report the crimes committed against them. It also showed a current climate where 76 percent of servicewomen and nearly half of servicemen said sexual harassment is common or very common. A climate where supervisors and unit leaders were responsible for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in nearly 60 percent of all cases demonstrates a system deeply in need of further reform before there can be trust in the chain of command.
Additionally, Senator Gillibrand and Human Rights Watch (HRW) independently released recent reports that demonstrate how poorly survivors are treated and how few rapists are ever punished. HRW found that service members who reported a sexual assault were 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than see their offender, if also a service member, get convicted for a sex offense. Our own investigation found a case of a high school girl who reported being raped by a service member and reported to her guidance counselor being found “not credible” despite her alleged perpetrator, and not her, having been found to have lied to investigators. We found another case where the investigative officer said they had enough evidence to move to trial with testimony from three victims, but the commander discharged the potential rapist to the public in lieu of a court martial. Our report found that nearly half of the survivors who reported a sexual assault declined to move forward with the military justice process. The Human Rights Watch’s report is available here. Senator Gillibrand’s report is available here.
The Military Justice Improvement Act
The carefully crafted Military Justice Improvement Act is designed to reverse the systemic fear that survivors of military sexual assault describe in deciding whether to report the crimes committed against them. Repeated testimony from survivors and former commanders says the widespread reluctance on the part of survivors to come forward and report is due to the 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. This reform moves the decision whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors while leaving military crimes to the chain of command. In fact, the decision whether to prosecute 37 serious crimes uniquely military in nature, plus all crimes punishable by less than one year of confinement (Article 15, non-judicial punishment), would remain within the chain of command (see excluded offenses here.)
After earning the support for the second straight Congress of a bipartisan majority of Senators, this common sense proposal was unfortunately filibustered again meaning the fight to pass this critically needed reform will continue.
Many of our allied modern militaries have already 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 diminished the accountability of commanders or their ability to maintain good order and discipline.
The Military Justice Improvement Act has been endorsed by Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Protect Our Defenders, and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women just to name a few. The bill is also supported by dozens of U.S. military flag officers, including the first female three-star General of the Army, Claudia Kennedy, UCMJ experts and major newspaper editorial boards across the country.
Protect Our Defenders Survivor Stories
Key Facts and Info
Read the Gillibrand Report of Four Largest U.S. Military Bases: Nearly Half of Survivors Who Reported Assaults Dropped Out of Military Justice Process; Sexual Assaults More Prevalent Than Previously Acknowledged (pdf)
Read "Embattled" the Human Rights Watch Report: Survivors 12x More Likely to Suffer Retaliation Than See Assailant Convicted; Not A Single Case of Serious Disciplinary Action Found for Retaliation (pdf)
NY Times Magazine Cover Story: "The Military's Rough Justice on Sexual Assault" on military’s continued failure to combat sexual assault – including accounts of retribution and retaliation
VIDEO: “Military Justice’s Dirty Secret”: Fmr. Chief Prosecutor USAF “Put Out to Pasture” for Speaking Out & Doing His Job
Senator Gillibrand Speaks In Support of MJIA 6/9/15
Senator Gillibrand Renews Push For MJIA 6/4/15
Senator Gillibrand Renews Push For MJIA 12/2/14
Col. (Ret.) Don Christensen Joins Senator Gillibrand in Push For MJIA, 12/2/14
Full MJIA Press Conference, 12/2/14
Press Conference With Survivors & Advocates, 11/19/13
Senator Gillibrand's Floor Speech 11/14/13
Senator Gillibrand Reading Survivors' Stories 11/14/13
MJIA Press Conference 11/6/13 - Senator Gillibrand
MJIA Press Conference 11/6/13 - Ariana & Ben Klay
Senate Armed Services Committee 3/13/13
San Antonio Express News "Twice Betrayed"