In-Depth: Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) — herself a military sexual assault survivor — introduced this bill to combat military sexual assault by making improvements to the investigation and judicial process and victim support after assaults have been reported:
“Sexual assault is intolerable and we must step up and demand action now. A commander is like no other position in the civilian world. We need to empower commanders to have more responsibility and more accountability than they do now. My bill will improve the timeliness from the time an assault is reported to when it is brought to its conclusion. I urge all of my colleagues to join me in saying the time is now to end sexual assault and take the steps necessary to give commanders, investigators, prosecutors, and all involved in the process the resources they need.”
In an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos, Sen. McSally added:
“When America’s mothers and fathers send their sons and daughters off to the military, it’s our responsibility and a covenant to keep them safe from crimes being committed by other teammates. We put our lives on the line when we go to battle, but we’ve got to stop these crimes. Obviously we’ve got to stop these assaults from happening in the first place. We’re going to be actually tackling that next, but I wanted to present something before we marked up the defense bill… My bill, actually, really is going to improve the opportunity for justice, due process and timely and thorough process related to these issues, and I think it really will make a difference.”
Unlike some, Sen. McSally doesn’t want to take the decision as to whether to prosecute sexual assault cases out of commanders’ hands. In the KTAR News interview, she said, “I very strongly disagree with that [idea], as a former commander and as a survivor, but I wanted to also show I’m not for the status quo.” Sen. McSally expounded on this idea in an ABC News interview:
“If you want to solve anything in the military, you have to have commanders more involved. It's like no other position in civilian life. I mean, we tell people to go take lives, maybe to give their own life. We are responsible for every element of their -- everything that they do… The problem is not the ultimate decision whether to prosecute or not by the convening authority, which is usually a colonel or a general. The problem is that oftentimes, the case along the way is taking too long. It's like a cancer rotting in the unit while this case goes on."
Original cosponsor Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) says:
“Sexual assault can never be tolerated – not in our military or anywhere else in this country. I’m proud to work with Senator McSally, a courageous voice for victims, to end sexual assault. The Combating Military Sexual Assault Act gives our military the resources it needs to end the plague of sexual assault, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide victims the support they deserve.”
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) supports this bill. Its president and CEO, Dana Atkins, says:
“MOAA supports this comprehensive bill ensuring our armed forces capitalize on standardized prevention and training while remaining flexible enough to adapt to best practices. The added support for victims continues to be paramount as we continue to learn from each other, and from other institutions, to try and rid our forces of sexual assault.”
Paula Coughlin, a former Navy lieutenant who now serves on the board of directors of Protect Our Defenders, an organization dedicated to ending sexual assault in the military, argues that keeping commanders at the center of handling sexual assault cases in the military, as this bill does, is a mistake:
“Despite mandatory ‘zero tolerance’ training since 1992, sexual assault is epidemic. Reports have increased by 50 percent at service academies in only two years, meaning about 20 percent of the officers in an upcoming class could be a victim of rape/assault or worse, the assailant. Our future commanders’ experience is that rape is rarely a punishable crime and, worse, that the good-ole-boy system will likely protect them. Commanders have an accountability gap. A squadron commander with a 3 percent mission success rate is a failure, yet there is a 3 percent conviction rate on sexual assault cases in the military — with no accountability for the outcome of those cases within the commander-controlled justice system. Unrestricted assault reports skyrocketed to an all-time high in 2017, yet, only 166, or 3 percent, resulted in convictions. In a 2015 Pentagon survey, 40 percent of victims reported their command encouraged them to drop their complaint. Victims endure the worst denigration trying to report assaults, especially when it’s against a person within their command; 50 percent of victims work with their perpetrator. Merciless retaliation cannot be squelched by good leadership if the ‘leader’ may be the perpetrator, and 25 percent are assaulted by someone to whom they report in their command… Unfortunately, history shows us that the expectation that commanders will execute an impartial and fair interpretation of justice is unfounded.”
This bill has six Republican Senate cosponsors. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), has two bipartisan House cosponsors (one from each party). As of August 2, 2019, neither bill had received a committee vote. The legislationl has the support of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and One Nation.
Of Note: The latest DOD annual report on sexual assault revealed that 5,277 servicemembers reported sexual assault incidents occurring during military service. It also revealed a 47% increase in unwanted sexual encounters at service academies, where reports increased from 507 to 747 during the 2017-2018 academic year. The Pentagon’s most recent annual report found even higher numbers: it showed nearly 15,000 servicemembers reporting having been sexual assaulted. It also reported that most victims were assaulted more than once, bringing total assaults to over 41,000 a year — or 112 a day. As of early June 2019, the latest figures for 2018 showed 20,500 reported cases of military sexual assault (versus 14,900 cases in 2016).
In a May 2019 DOD report, 6% of women in the military reported being sexually assaulted in 2018. This was the highest rate since 2006, when the Pentagon first instituted policies to encourage greater reporting of sexual assault. According to reporting by the Pentagon, a woman in the military has a one in four chance of being assaulted by a fellow servicemember during her career; and a man has a one in 15 chance of being assaulted by a fellow servicemember.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / JOHNGOMEZPIX)