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Military Sexual Assault Bill Fails in Senate, With Cornyn's Help

by: Emily Cadik

Fri Mar 07, 2014 at 00:00 PM CST

Yesterday a measure to advance Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's military assault bill failed in the Senate, five votes shy of the 60  needed. Ted Cruz actually supported it, calling it a "a simple common-sense reform." Senator Cornyn did not.

The bill would have removed military commanders from decisions regarding whether sexual assault cases should be prosecuted, meaning the decisions would be made by military lawyers who are not part of a victim's chain of command.  The idea is that "forcing victims to go to their commanders to report sexual assaults is similar to forcing a woman to tell her father that her brother has assaulted her" - commanders tend to know both the victims and the abusers, so victims are less likely to report assault.

There's more after the jump.

The charge against Gillibrand's bill was actually led by a Democratic woman - Senator Claire McCaskill - though it is generally supported by more Republicans. It's interesting that neither bill is split down party lines, though, with 11 Republicans voting for and 10 Democrats voting against yesterday's measure.

McCaskill's bill calls for a civilian review in cases where a prosecutor and commander disagree over whether to take on a sexual assault case.  The Senate will now be moving ahead on this version of the military sexual assault bill, and Cornyn will support it because would "not break the chain of command, which is absolutely critical to maintaining order." It's the same argument that the military commanders who lobbied against the bill made. But as Gillibrand pointed out, "Frankly, they've failed up until now to keep the command climate free of assault, rape, and retaliation." And of course, reporting sexual assault to neutral parties seems less disruptive than the epidemic of sexual assault itself.

Sexual assault in the military has truly reached epidemic proportions. Reports of sexual assault increased sharply in 2013 - over 50 percent from the previous year. In just the first three quarters of 2013, there were 3,553 reported sexual assaults. The vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported, though. Estimates from a survey indicated that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2012, meaning there were over 22,000 sexual assaults that went unreported.

"We know the deck is stacked against victims of sexual assault in the military," Gillibrand said after the vote. "And today, we saw the same in the halls of Congress." It's encouraging that there is bipartisan support to continue moving forward on measures to combat sexual assault in the military, but there is clearly still resistance to meaningful reform.

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