Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand issued the following statement following the Senate’s failure to vote on the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act:
“I am deeply upset that the Senate closed the National Defense Authorization Act without even debating military sexual assault and the Military Justice Improvement Act specifically. The bipartisan amendment has previously earned the support of a majority of Senators twice before and is widely supported by Veterans Service Organizations, retired military members, sexual violence NGOs, military law experts and most importantly military sexual assault survivors.
“When the Department of Defense tells us they estimate there are over 20,000 sexual assaults on service members each year, that nearly 8 out of 10 of those attacked do not report the incident and that 62% of those brave souls who do report then face retaliation – often from someone in their chain of command who is supposed to protect them – how can it be possible that the Senate refuses to even debate reforming this system? The Department of Defense has buried its head in the sand on sexual assault for over 25 years and today the U.S. Senate joined them. Despite evidence uncovered by the Associated Press that the DoD misled members of the Senate on sexual assault cases, this simple reform was blocked from even being considered by this Senate. They used to just filibuster the bill, but now they won’t even debate it – pushing this national scandal to the shadows. I think that sends a shameful message to military sexual assault survivors.
“We know today that the men and women in the military who are sexually assaulted do not get a fair chance to get justice in the current system. Today, I am saddened to say the same appears to be true from the U.S. Senate. Given this abject failure on behalf of Congress, I will again call on President Obama, the Commander of Chief, to fulfill his responsibility to service members and take action to give them a system of justice worthy of their sacrifice. In December of 2013 President Obama put the Department of Defense on notice that they had one year to show ‘the kind of progress I expect’ before considering additional reforms. The data does not lie – significant progress has not been made, retaliation remains exactly where it was then and in the case of unrestricted reporting we have actually gone backwards from last year.
“The question for the Senate and the President shouldn’t be, ‘have we done enough to combat military sexual assault’, but rather, ‘have we done everything we can to fight this epidemic?’ The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’, and brave service members pay the price every day for our inaction. In recent surveys and in their countless stories, survivors tell us they lack faith in the command-controlled system. They simply fear that nothing will be done or they will be retaliated against for reporting. I don’t know why the President and members of the Senate refuse to believe them.
“Today is a setback in our fight on survivors’ behalf, but it is no more than that. I will continue to advocate for reform, and I refuse to back down or go away from fighting for survivors on this issue. Whether it is this President and Congress or the next, we will not give up until we can provide service members with a system of justice that is fair.”