Ayotte, McCaskill, & Tester Join Retired Female Service Members to Discuss Critical Military Sexual Assault Reforms
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), along with Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Jon Tester (D-MT), joined a group of retired female service members to discuss critical bipartisan reforms approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee to combat military sexual assaults. The group included a retired female judge advocate, retired commanders, and retired non-commissioned officers, who shared their views on how best to prevent military sexual assault and protect victims -explaining why keeping commanders involved in prosecutions is critical to preventing military sexual assaults and better supporting victims.
"Military sexual assault is a serious problem that must be addressed. The bipartisan provisions in the defense bill passed by the Armed Services Committee include strong protections for victims, including a Special Victims' Counsel to help victims throughout the process," said Senator Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former prosecutor. "Everything within the military happens within the chain of command. To make sure that victims are supported and that these cases are vigorously prosecuted, we can't let commanders off the hook. Taking away their responsibility to act will also make it more difficult to hold them accountable."
EXCERPTS FROM TODAY'S REMARKS:
Colonel Ana Smythe, USMC (Ret.): "What you don't understand if you're not in the military is that the fabric and the essence of the military is built around the chain of command...If we dismantle or weaken the chain of command, we are lost...Please don't throw away the structure on which the military is built."
Colonel Lisa Schenck, USA (Ret.), former Judge Advocate General: "Yes, there should be change. The proposal...the senators have talked about is really important for victims and it is going to address what needs to be addressed - victims' rights. If you take out the convening authority from the process, you are essentially gutting the military justice process.
Chief Master Sergeant Barbara Taylor, USAF (Ret.): "We're all very, very convicted in trying to get people to understand the powerful impact of taking the chain of command away would be. It would be devastating to the United States military... A commander cannot be held responsible if he does not have the authority to act."
The historic reforms added to the Defense Authorization bill had unanimous support from the Senate Armed Services Committee, and include provisions that will:
• Strip commanders of their authority to dismiss court martial convictions for most offenses, including in cases of rape and sexual assault
• Require service secretaries to provide a Special Victims' Counsel to provide legal advice and assistance to service members who are victims of a sexual assault committed by a member of the armed forces
• Require any case involving sexual assault where a commander overrules the advice of a Staff Judge Advocate to proceed to court martial be automatically referred to the civilian Service Secretary (e.g. the Secretary of the Army) for a final decision as to whether the case should proceed to court martial
• Make it a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to retaliate against a victim who reports a criminal offense
• Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, to provide written justification for any modifications made to a sentence
• Require a commander, when serving as a convening authority in a military court martial, to receive input from the victim before arriving at any decision during clemency proceedings
• Require that a person found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge
• Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations for sexual assault and sexual assault of a child
• Ensure the military has the authority to move an individual accused of sexual assault from a unit to protect a victim from unwanted contact with their alleged attacker, while sustaining a victim's right to request expedited transfer
• Provide for study of the military's ability to create a database of information regarding those accused by victims in restricted military reports-meaning the victim chooses to not have the information given to law enforcement, commanders, or others to facilitate potential prosecution-such that serial offenders might be identified and victims might be encouraged to make unrestricted reports that allow for prosecutions in those cases
• Express the Sense of the Senate that commanding officers are responsible for a command climate that appropriately handles sexual assault, that failure of a commanding officer to maintain such a command climate is an appropriate basis for relief of their command position, and that command climate should be a consideration in a commander's performance evaluation
• Removes the past performance and character of an accused from those factors that may be considered by a commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, in deciding whether to refer a case to court martial
• Provides that in sexual assault cases in which a Staff Judge Advocate and a Commander, when serving as a military courts-martial convening authority, agree that a case should not proceed to court martial, the next higher military commander also review this determination
The U.S. House Armed Services Committee also overwhelmingly approved similar provisions.