Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is imploring Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring to the floor a bill that would transform the way sexual assault and other major crimes are handled within the military.
Gillibrand has been working across the aisle to garner support for the bill, which currently has 64 cosponsors, including Republican Senators Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, and Ted Cruz. That is enough support to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate, but first, the bill has to come to the floor — a decision that rests with Schumer.
“I believe we should have a vote now,” Gillibrand said during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “It is a generational bill of shifting how we address military justice, how we build a military justice system that’s worthy of the sacrifice our men and women in the military make.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for a vote on a bipartisan bill to move serious military crimes outside the chain of command and instead allow a trained military prosecutor to make decisions. “The chain of command has bias because they may know the perpetrator.” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/hE5k8OKe7Q
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 30, 2021
Currently, when a person reports a sexual assault or major crime in the military, the decision whether to prosecute is made by military commanders within the chain of command. Gillibrand’s bill would shift the decision to prosecute away from commanders to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.
The senator has been working on this issue since 2013 when she introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act. Since then, the number of sexual assaults reported in the military has increased. One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, which is the most recent data the government has on the issue.
“Over the last 10 years, the number of sexual assaults has gone up, but the percentage of cases going to trial and ending in conviction has gone down,” Gillibrand told host Jake Tapper. “Under President Trump, the statistics and details got even worse. And so we are not moving in the right direction.”
And, Gillibrand points out, many of the United States’ allies, such as the United Kingdom, have already implemented similar processes within their armed forces.
But fellow Democratic Senator Jack Reed, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has blocked the bill, instead insisting on his own proposal that is more narrow. Reed said he wants to add a provision to the Defense Department budget that would only change the criminal process around sexual assault but not other major crimes.
“[Reed’s] insistence on narrowing this bill to one crime, the crime of sexual assault, you’re going to basically break apart the criminal justice system within the military,” Gillibrand said. “You’re going to create one set of justice for one set of plaintiffs and defendants and the rest for everybody else. It’s not fair.”
Gillibrand also told Tapper that she thinks Reed’s idea would not eliminate bias against black and brown soldiers and said it would essentially create a “pink court” separate from the rest of the military criminal justice system.
“To take biases out of the system across the board, you need a trained military prosecutor to make these decisions about whether it should go to trial,” she said. “That takes it out of the chain of command. The chain of command has bias because they may know the perpetrator, the accused. They may know the survivor.”
The House has been considering a similar bill, the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee. Spiers’ bill would also create a standalone sexual harassment offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.