Congress advances measures to address sexual assaults in the military

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The House and Senate each advanced a series of measures this week to address the continuing problem of sexual assaults in the military.
The two chambers still are months away from reaching an agreement on what steps should be taken, but the issue has become high profile. And there’s a sense of certainty that changes are coming because the measures are in must-pass legislation.
The House voted this week on a defense spending bill and the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, inserted an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act that focuses on West Point and other military services academies.
The academies already provide sexual assault training, but Lowey’s measure requires it to be within 60 days after new cadets or midshipmen enter school and annually after that. As part of the training, they would be required to be informed of the history of sexual assault in the military, the definition of sexual assault, victim’s rights, and discharge for offenders.
In the Senate, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York failed in her effort to remove the decision on whether to prosecute sexual assault cases from commanders and give it to military prosecutors. Gillibrand chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, which had agreed to the change.
Instead, when the proposal reached the full Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., substituted a provision that would require an automatic review if a commander overrules a military lawyer’s advice to prosecute sexual assault charges. The committee agreed to Levin’s alternative approach, which requires the review to be conducted by the secretary of that military service.
Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to a number of other measures to address sexual assault that will be in the National Defense Authorization Act that will go to the Senate floor either in July or after Labor Day.
Here’s a list provided by Gillibrand’s office:
– An amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice limiting the authority of a convening authority to modify the findings of a court-martial to specified sexual offenses.
– A sense of the Senate that commanding officers should be held accountable for maintaining a command climate in which sexual assault allegations are properly managed and fairly evaluated, and victims can report criminal activity, including sexual assault, without fear of retaliation.
– Eliminating consideration of the personal character of the accused from the factors a commander should consider in deciding how to dispose of an offense.
– Requiring commanding officers to immediately refer to an appropriate military criminal investigation organization any report of sexual-related offenses involving service members in the commander’s chain of command.
– A sense of the Senate that charges of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or attempts to commit these offenses should be disposed of by court-martial rather than by non-judicial punishment or administrative action, and that the disposition authority should include in the case file a justification in any case where these charges are disposed of by non-judicial punishment or administrative action.
– Requiring any substantiated complaints of a sexual-related offense that result in a court-martial conviction, non-judicial punishment, or administrative action should be noted in the service record of the service member, regardless of the member’s grade.

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