Military sexual assault reform bill falls short

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Democratic Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, who has this year repeatedly grilled high level military officials on the topic, wants to remove what is known as chain of command from process that victims have to go through to get their claims heard. Gillibrand wants to give military prosecutors the power to decide whether cases are investigated.

WASHINGTON — New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s proposed sexual-assault reform bill fell short of 60 votes necessary to move ahead in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday afternoon, with only 49 senators voting in support of the bill.

The measure would establish an independent justice system to prosecute rape crimes in the military. Gillibrand has long been recognized as an advocate for legislation to remove responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes from the military chain of command and have them handled by an independent body.

“American military, if they do these reforms, will have fewer dangerous criminals and far more heroes … The brave men and women we send to war to keep us safe deserve nothing less than a justice system equal to their sacrifice ” Gillibrand said on the Senate floor before Tuesday’s vote.

Military authorities objected to this proposal, asserting it would undermine their overall authority. President Barack Obama also sided against the measure.

This was not the first time Gillibrand’s bipartisan reform bill has faced a Senate vote — the measure was derailed last year and fell five votes short necessary to get tacked onto a broader Defense authorization bill.

In a study released in May, the percentage of military personnel of who said they were victims of sexual assault dropped dramatically over the past two years — by about 27%. The study was sponsored by the Pentagon and conducted by the RAND Corporation.

“No one should have to suffer the chain of command when they report these crimes,” said Gillibrand, adding that she believes every military victim of sexual assault deserves due process and the opportunity to receive justice.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who also backed the bill, lavished praise on Gillibrand for her willingness to take on a Democratic president, which he called “remarkable.”