Senate Rejects Measure to Improve Military Justice System

Justice Reform 06.22,15

On June 16, the Senate rejected an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to restructure the military criminal justice system’s handling of sexual assault cases. The amendment, proposed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D. N.Y., incorporated provisions of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which the Senate also rejected as a standalone bill in March 2014.

The Leadership Conference sent a letter to the Senate ahead of the vote urging senators to support the amendment. In its letter, The Leadership Conference refers to some damning statistics that underscore the consistent failure of the chain of command to fairly handle sexual assault cases: 1 in 7 military victims were assaulted by someone in their chain of command, sexual assault rates in the military have failed to drop since 2010, and those who report sexual assault are 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than to have their attacker convicted of a sex offense.

“There is broad agreement that victims of unwanted sexual contact should not have to live in fear of coming forward. Our military service members risk their lives for this country, and it is time that meaningful structural changes are made within the military justice system to ensure their safety,” the letter states. “The MJIA will provide a fair and objective system so that victims can come forward and be provided an impartial hearing without fear of retaliation.”

The MJIA aimed to bring justice to military victims of sexual assault through shifting responsibility for such cases to trained, impartial lawyers rather than leaving them in the regular chain of command.

In a statement following the MJIA vote, Gillibrand said that “once again, Senate filibuster rules protected military brass. Still, we will not back down.”