Senator Claire McCaskill Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Combat Sexual Assault in the Military

Top ranking officers testify at Congressional hearing on sexual assault in the military
Military leaders testify at Congressional hearing on sexual assault in the Armed Forces

U. S. Senator Claire McCaskill (Democrat-Missouri) addressed military leaders at a congressional hearing Tuesday over the handling of sexual assault cases. She, along with Senator Susan Collins (Republican-Maine), and two representatives, Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Niki Tsongas (D-Massachusetts), introduced a bill that would combat sexual assault in the military by requiring perpetrators to be held accountable while protecting the survivors. The lawmakers want this bipartisan, bicameral bill included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The short title of this bill is stated as the “Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013.” The issues being addressed cover those in authority, the guilty party, and the victim. Limits are to be placed on the convening authority’s discretion regarding court-martial findings. They will not have unlimited ability to change or dismiss adjudged court-martial convictions except in cases of minor offenses. Any changes regarding a sentence will require written justification detailing the proposed changes, and will require input from the victim.

The bill also includes punishment for attempted sexual assault, and a change in the statute of limitations–especially with regard to sexual assault of children. Any person who actually commits, or attempts to commit, rape, sexual assault, or forcible sodomy will receive mandatory dismissal or dishonorable discharge. The current “five-year statute of limitations on Trial by Court-Martial” is to be eliminated for “rape or sexual assault of a child.”

Senator McCaskill is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The committee was created after World War II to oversee the review, monitoring, and supervision of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the draft and military personnel benefits. It merged with the Committee on Military Affairs and the Committee on Naval Affairs.

Senator Susan Collins is a senior member of the U. S. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee which is part of the U. S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. It is the responsibility of the Defense Subcommittee to monitor funding and budget appropriations of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Representatives Mike Turner and Niki Tsongas are Co-Chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. Congressman Turner points out the bill’s enhanced protection for victims ensures they will not be “re-victimized.” The bill takes additional steps to see that victims will be treated with respect during legal proceedings. Congresswoman Tsongas hails this bill as an important step in helping female soldiers fight back. It is a way of changing the power of commanders so they acknowledge and deal with the issue.

Senator Collins, Congressman Turner, and Congresswoman Tsongas had sponsored the Coast Guard STRONG Act earlier this year. This required sexual assault prevention and response training at every level, and allowed the victim to be transferred to another geographic location.

Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent

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