Washington D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), along with a bipartisan group of Senators, today called on the Senate to pass the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act, an amendment that will be offered to the National Defense Authorization Act that would establish an impartial, fair, and accountable military justice system to address the crisis of sexual assault. The Military Justice Improvement Act would remove sole decision-making authority over whether serious crimes move forward to trial from the chain of command to independent, trained military prosecutors. The Senators are calling for another vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act after learning that the Senate held its previous votes under the influence of false and misleading information.
“We now know far more about the extent of the military’s sexual assault problem than we did a year ago when our bill was last filibustered, and it’s clear from the data and case files the Defense Department has given us that little has changed, despite their persistent claims that things are getting better,” said Senator Gillibrand (D-NY). “I’m calling for another vote on my bill because the Senate held its previous votes under the influence of false and misleading information. Not only did the Defense Department willfully mislead Congress in order to skew the debate, but they continue to do so by telling Congress that sexual assault survivors’ faith in the system is increasing – despite their own statistics showing the opposite. In the last few months alone, it was confirmed that a top Pentagon official gave false testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing; the Defense Department released annual data that included another 6,083 sexual assault cases; and there continues to be overwhelming evidence that survivors don’t have confidence in the broken military justice system, are often unwilling to pursue justice when these violent crimes occur against them, and are fearful of retaliation if they do report. Congress must give the members of our military a justice system worthy of their service.”
“The more the Pentagon appears to be manipulating data, the stronger the case for taking the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command,” Senator Grassley (R-IA) said. “The level of trust decreases with these kinds of disclosures. The men and women of the U.S. military deserve true justice in cases of sexual assault. Now that we know the Pentagon’s case against our legislation doesn’t hold water, it is time for the Senate to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act.”
“This is a vital piece of legislation which we must act on as soon as possible,” said Senator Paul (R-KY). “This crusade for fairness is a welcome breath of fresh air, let us together and in a bipartisan way create a path for victims to obtain justice.”
“I am proud to cosponsor the Military Justice Improvement Act,” said Senator Blumenthal (D-CT). “By removing the chain of the command from cases of sexual assault, this legislation will put these sensitive decisions in the hands of professional military prosecutors, free commanders to focus on their mission, and protect the privacy of survivors. We must do everything in our power to protect those who protect us, and these changes will send a clear message that sexual assault will not be tolerated in our military.”
“Sexual assault in the military is a serious crime, and personal bias or a conflict of interest should not prevent victims from getting the justice they deserve,” Senator Hirono (D-HI) said. “We have made progress in the three years since we introduced this bill, but we still haven’t made what victims consider the most important change: taking the decision to prosecute out of the chain of command and putting it into the hands of a military prosecutor. This bill enjoys broad bipartisan support, and I call on my colleagues to pass it as soon as possible.”
“Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are brave patriots who voluntarily risk life and limb to defend our nation. We have a solemn obligation to put in place a military justice system that protects every single serviceman and servicewoman,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said. “There are not many issues that garner bipartisan support like the Military Justice Improvement Act, but this is an issue on which we are united. No unit can fight effectively without trust among the soldiers and between the soldiers and their commanders. This is a commonsense reform that ensures the decision to prosecute is made by a professional military prosecutor, rather than the immediate commanding officer, who many times may face a conflict of interest. I am proud to stand by Sen. Gillibrand, who has led this fight tenaciously, and I encourage my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this worthy endeavor.”
“Sexual assault in the military continues to be a very severe issue, and based on new revelations the military justice system needs major reforms in how these cases are reported, investigated, and disciplined,” said Senator Vitter (R-LA). “This bipartisan legislation would enact those necessary reforms to better protect all those involved.”
“We at Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) have grown tired of hearing from the Department of Defense that it has ‘zero tolerance’ toward military sexual trauma in the ranks,” said Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Veterans Health Council, Vietnam Veterans of America. “MST has not subsided, and it will not go away until all aspects of the system that touches it are identified and dissected. Changes are necessary to long-standing procedures, regulations, and legal systems. Senator Gillibrand’s bill would ensure victims a better opportunity to seek justice, and it’s well past time for this reform to become law. VVA stands in solidarity with Senator Gillibrand on the MJIA.”
“It is now crystal clear that the Pentagon knowingly relied upon false information to mislead Congress and derail reforms they oppose,” said Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor and Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen. “Mr. President, I know you care about the men and women who serve under you, and you have promised that you have their backs. You can continue to show that by ordering an investigation of these false claims and fixing this broken system before you leave office. Mr. President, please stand with survivors like Samantha.”
“Sexual assault and harassment remains one of the greatest internal threats to military readiness, good order and discipline,” said Judy Patterson, CEO of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN). “The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) supports Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to reform the military legal justice system to ensure our military is capable of defending our nation when we need them most. We strongly urge Congress to support the passage of the 2016 Military Justice Improvement Act to rebuild trust between service members and ensure justice for sexual assault victims.”
“It is unacceptable that we are once again discussing the fact that not enough is being done to protect survivors of MST or to prevent these egregious crimes from happening in the first place,” said Thomas Porter, Legislative Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “The time to act on the Military Justice Improvement Act is now. In IAVA’s most recent membership survey, over 60 percent of both men and women respondents who reported an incident of MST stated that they experienced retaliation after reporting the incident. This is appalling and continues to highlight the necessity for the MJIA.”
According to the latest Department of Defense information, nearly eight out of ten military sexual assault survivors did not have enough trust in the system to report an assault. The Department of Defense appears to have willfully misled Congress by telling lawmakers that sexual assault survivors’ faith in the system is increasing, despite statistics showing the opposite. Fewer sexual assault victims this year were willing to put their names on reports seeking justice, compared to last year; and the percentage of victims willing to openly report the crimes against them declined for the past five years.
For additional information on the Military Justice Improvement Act, visit http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/mjia