Sexual Assault Bill Dealt a Blow

There's no doubt that the U.S. military is cracking down on increased reports of sexual assaults. But there is still a lot of contention on how exactly it will accomplish that, as the Senate this week is expected to vote on a revamped military policy bill. Now, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal on how to proceed has divided the Senate. Eleven members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote a letter against Gillibrand's bill Monday, saying that it would actually undermine victims.

The Democrat from New York wants to remove decisions about sexual assault and other serious crimes away from the military's chain of command. The authority to prosecute sexual assault cases would be determined by impartial trial lawyers. Gillibrand already has support from about half of the Senate, but has not garnered enough votes — 60 — to prevent a filibuster.

But the opposing senators of the Armed Services Committee say that Gillibrand's proposal would actually do more harm than good. From the letter:

We believe strongly that this would create a system that would actually be worse for victims and significantly undermine the military system of justice and discipline," the senators wrote. "It could lead to constitutional hurdles for military prosecutions; undermine the ability of prosecutors to execute plea bargains that can spare victims a difficult trial process.

Of course, it's all about money. Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief, said it would be a "big mistake" to adopt Gillibrand's plan. The salaries for about 600 attorneys and support staff would tack on an extra $113 million per year to the military's budget — not including expenses for medical and mental health benefits for victims.

But Gillibrand is standing her ground. She's not backing down about excluding cases of murder and theft in hopes to get more votes. “We're going to stick to the original plan because it's a better bill,” Gillibrand told ABC.

There are really no clear lines on the Senate's split. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., along with 16 of the Senate's 20 women, support Gillibrand's plan. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., stand against the plan. McCaskill offered her own solution: Limit commanders’ ability to overturn jury verdicts and restrain their ability to order dishonorable discharges for military members found guilty of sexual assault.

After recent data saw a 50 percent jump in military sexual-assault reports, the Defense Department contends more members are comfortable with the way cases are already being handled. But with an anonymous Pentagon survey stating that more than 26,000 people were sexually assaulted within the military last year, is it really enough?