With reports of sexual assault in the military showing a sharp rise in the past year, New York’s Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wants to do something about the estimated 23,000 cases that go unreported because, she says, servicemembers are afraid that the military chain of command will not protect them.
In a case of politics making strange bedfellows, the liberal senator from New York has the support of many Republicans, including two of the Senate’s most arch-conservative members, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“I don’t think it’s a question of being progressive or conservative,” said Gillibrand. “I think it’s whether you’re going to listen to what victims and survivors have told us about what’s wrong with the system or not.”
In fact, some key members of Gillibrand’s own Democratic Party oppose her Military Justice Improvement Act, which would take prosecution of military sex assault and other violent crimes out of the military’s chain of command. They include Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin.
The Pentagon also strongly opposes the bill.
“When Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz sat down, talked to victims, studied the issue, learned about it, they just applied common sense,” Gillibrand said. “And that’s what this issue needs.”
Other Republicans, not so much. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham has said he will do “whatever it takes” to keep the military in charge of prosecuting its own sex assault cases.
The problem is, military commanders often ignore sexual assault victims or do little to help them.
Ariana and Ben Klay (see the video below), who are married and both Marines, described Ariana’s ordeal as sexual assault victim in the Marine Corps.
She says she was the victim of a gang rape at a Marine barracks in 2010 and sought justice through the military system only to find frustration and further humiliation.
“I read her commander’s conclusions, in writing, that she deserved ill treatment for wearing running shorts and makeup,” said her husband, Ben. “I read the opinion of the command-appointed investigator, who compared rape to prostitution or marrying a rich man. As for the assault trial, it put Ariana through over fifteen hours of degrading testimony after a year of retaliation and intimidation. The closing statement of that trial was a Marine officer reading the definition of ‘c***,’ ‘slut,’ and ‘whore.’”
Klay’s story brought both Gillibrand and Paul to tears, as seen in the above photo.
Critics of the bill say it will cause a breakdown in the discipline needed for the military to operate effectively.
“I have news for you,” Gillibrand said, addressing critics who have made that argument. “With 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual contact last year alone, we don’t have the good order and discipline that our military needs.”
The period between July of 2012 and June of 2013 saw 3,553 cases of reported military sex assault, up a staggering 46 percent from the previous 12-month period.
Sources: Huffington Post, NBC News, New York Daily News, RH Reality Check, YouTube