Following years of relentless advocacy to reform the military justice system, deliver justice to survivors violent crimes in the military, and prevent sexual assault across the armed forces, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today announced that they have secured 61 bipartisan cosponsors — the critical threshold needed for passage of the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (S.1520). The broadly bipartisan legislation is supported by 61 Senators including 41 Democrats, 2 Independents, 18 Republicans, and the majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee Members. With widespread support, the commonsense military justice reform legislation has multiple paths to becoming law this Congress.
According to data from the Department of Defense (DoD), the Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 service members experienced sexual assault in FY2018, the most recent year the data was available. However, of those estimated cases less than 600 accused assaulters ever stood court martial by the end of FY2019.
“This is a defining moment. Since I first started working to reform military justice in 2013 we have twice been blocked by the filibuster standard of 60 votes, despite having a majority of the Senate in support. Now, with the help of Senators Grassley, Ernst, and Blumenthal, we have secured the critical support needed to deliver justice to survivors of sexual assault and other serious crimes in our military,” said Senator Gillibrand. “For decades, sexual assault in our military has been an uncontrolled epidemic hurting readiness, recruitment, and morale. This common sense legislation will ensure that the justice system works for all service members and enact measures to help prevent sexual assault across our armed forces. I am proud to lead my colleagues in the fight to pass this bipartisan legislation — it’s clear we have the momentum to get it done.”
“Sixty cosponsors puts our effort over an important hurdle in the Senate and vindicates years of work to secure justice for military survivors. It’s utterly unacceptable that so many of those who serve our country in uniform have dealt with a system that’s broken. The hard work of our coalition, especially Senator Gillibrand, has brought us to the cusp of passage. This is finally the year we will be able to deliver change,” said Senator Grassley.
“After working together with Democrats and Republicans, we’ve written a new, bipartisan bill that will bolster sexual assault prevention efforts; hold perpetrators accountable while ensuring commanders still have visibility of their unit; and equip military prosecutors with the skills necessary to handle these sensitive cases. Gaining this overwhelming support for our bill is a critical step in making it law. I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their support to strengthen our fighting force and ensure all service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.” said Senator Ernst.
“This moment is a tribute to the sexual assault survivors who stepped forward, shared their stories, and never gave up fighting for what’s right. It has taken years of relentless, courageous advocacy to bring meaningful reforms to the military’s broken system of justice within reach. The time for plans or promises is over – change is coming now,” said Senator Blumenthal.
Recent reporting details the critical shift in Congress and the Pentagon to finally pass legislation that delivers major, long-overdue changes in military laws that will allow survivors to trust the military justice system. Military justice experts agree that the decision to prosecute should be moved from the chain of command to independent, trained military prosecutors. In recent weeks, top military commanders — including the Joint Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen — dropped their opposition to the removal of prosecution decisions from the chain of command.
The military justice reform bill would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes — including rape and sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography, and negligent homicide — by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate.
In addition to Senators Gillibrand, Grassley, Ernst, and Blumenthal the full list of Senate co-sponsors includes: Baldwin (D-WI), Barrasso (R-WY), Bennet (D-CO), Blunt (R-MO), Booker (D-NJ), Braun (R-IN), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Capito (R-WV), Cardin (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Cassidy (R-LA), Collins (R-ME), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cramer (R-ND), Cruz (R-TX), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Fischer (R-NE), Feinstein (D-CA), Hassan (D-NH), Hawley (R-MO), Heinrich (D-NM), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Hirono (D-HI), Kaine (D-VA), Kelly (D-AZ), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Lujan (D-NM), Lummis (R-WY), Markey (D-MA), Marshall (R-KS), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Moran (R-KS), Murkowski (R-AL), Murray (D-WA), Ossoff (D-GA), Padilla (D-CA), Paul (R-KY), Peters (D-MI), Rosen (D-NV), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Shaheen (D-NH), T. Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Tuberville (R-AL), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warnock (D-GA), Warren (D-MA), and Wyden (D-OR).
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act is endorsed by leading veterans groups including IAVA, American Legion, VFW, Vietnam Veterans of America, Protect our Defenders, SWAN, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), Common Defense, and Veterans Recovery Project.