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U.S. Senator Advocates Military Justice System Reform

Kristina Derro
Veteran Advocate

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is leading the charge to end sex crimes in the military by giving a panel of seasoned, independent military trial lawyers the power to decide whether to prosecute sexual assault cases. Currently, this power is held by a small number of high-ranking military officials. Senator Gillibrand argues in her proposal before Congress that this power structure is the very reason why sexual assault goes practically unpunished in the military.

After examining 329 sexual assault cases that occurred in 2014 at U.S. bases, she found that “the case files suggest a continued large-scale systemic failure and an ingrained culture that protects the accused and ostracizes the survivor at the expense of the public and our service members’ safety.”

From the top down, military officials tend to suppress sex crime allegations as much as possible, often at the expense of the victim. The same holds true in the military justice system, where the high-ranking members would rather sweep allegations of rape under the rug rather than follow through with prosecution in order to uphold the integrity of the military. There were several cases that were closed prematurely even though military investigators determined that a sex crime more than likely occurred.

Missing from these heavily redacted files was a single reported instance of prosecution of an individual who retaliated against the alleged victim for reporting the incident. Senator Gillibrand was troubled by this because prior studies have shown that more than 60% of sexual assault victims believed they faced a form of retaliation from commanders or peers. We are left to assume that retaliation cases are dismissed just as those involving sexual assault/misconduct.

The goal of the Senator’s proposal is to remove the in-group bias from the prosecution decision by putting it in the hands of independent attorneys who are well-versed in military trials. This group, she hopes, will not shy away from prosecuting sexual assault cases because they are immune from institutional pressures that plague the current system.

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