Senate women: We're 'fed up' with military sexual assault

By:  The Hill - Ramsey Cox
Source: The Hill

Female senators stood united on the Senate floor Tuesday against military sexual assault, but how to best address the issue is still being debated.

The Senate is now considering the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) , which authorizes more than $600 billion in defense spending for the Pentagon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said military sexual assault was a top issue he wanted to debate and have amendments on but Republicans blocked him from bringing up an amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“I’m pretty fed up,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), dean of the women’s caucus. “No woman should be a victim of rape by a fellow soldier.”[WATCH VIDEO]

Some protections for victims of sexual assault were included during committee markup of NDAA, such as providing a lawyer for victims and criminalizing retaliation against victims who report assaults. But Gillibrand and most of the other female senators have said the underlying bill doesn’t go far enough.

Gillibrand’s amendment would take military sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and most Republicans on the committee oppose Gillibrand’s amendment.

Gillibrand and her supporters argue that taking cases outside the chain of command is needed because victims do not report sexual assault crimes out of fears that commanders won’t prosecute the cases and they will face retaliation.

Opponents of her bill say that the decision to prosecute cases must remain in the chain of command so that commanders are held accountable for their command climate on sexual assault, and so they retain the ability to punish perpetrators.

If Gillibrand’s amendment is held to a 60-vote threshold it won’t pass. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has presented an alternative that keeps sexual assault cases within the chain of command but adds protections for those who report crimes.

"It is very important that we not lose sight that this isn’t about a bumper sticker," McCaskill said. "This is about doing the very best job we can on the policy so we can protect victims, prosecute offenders and get them the hell out of our military." 

Mikulski said there were 26,000 reasons why Senate women were speaking out on the floor Tuesday. Earlier this year, the Pentagon estimated that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kelley Ayotte (R-N.H.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), McCaskill, Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Mikulski on the Senate floor.

“There is one thing we can all agree on and that’s protecting the victims from further abuse,” Cantwell said. “We may differ on how best to achieve that goal, but we’re all here to say one thing: Enough is enough.”