It seems there are more and more sexual assault allegations making headlines — and many of these cases involve military personnel — but sexual assault criminal proceedings in the armed forces vary greatly from those in civilian courts primarily because the rules of a democracy do not apply to military life. In a situation where all matters of law must follow a strict chain of command, a victim of any crime, including those cases involving sexual assault, may find themselves at the mercy of their aggressor.
“The military’s a unique place; it’s not a democracy,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said at a recent hearing. “When it comes to good order and discipline of a command, we have generally held the view that the one person that has the power to determine good order and discipline — and to make sure it’s present — is the military commander.”
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is seeking to change the way those sexual assault cases that involve military personnel are handled, as reported by the New York Times. Specifically, Gillibrand has asked for a vote on a bill that would curtail the authority of military commanders in the prosecution of sexual assault cases.
“We should all be able to agree our brave men and women in uniform deserve blind justice,” she said. “The scale should not be tipped in either direction in favor of the victim or the accused.”
This is an issue Gillibrand attempted to tackle once before earlier this year, but at that time, her sexual assault bill received only 55 votes, five votes short of the required 60 votes to move the bill forward. The New York senator’s bill may have more success this time. This issue seems to have defied party lines, gaining bipartisan support and drawing unlikely allies to Gillibrand’s sexual assault bill, most notably Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Additionally, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports that retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group which provides support for military personnel surviving crimes of sexual assault, has also stepped forward in support of Kirsten Gillibrand‘s bill. Christensen filed for retirement, ending a 23 year career in the Air Force, after concluding that the changes required of the military in how it handles sexual assault cases would need to be made within the legislative branch of the government.
“I heard the voices of survivors who are not being taken care of,” Christensen said. “The reality is, the commanders cannot solve this problem because too often they are the enablers.”
Supporters and opponents of the bill both agree that there are still some issues that need to be worked out with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees working on a revised version of the bill, but Gillibrand is hopeful the sexual assault bill could come for a vote as early as this week.
In related news, it was little more than a month ago that Inquisitr reported that a military sex survey offended participants with raunchy phrases and intrusive questions.