In case you’re disappointed that Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act got filibustered yesterday, I have great news: the senate, according to senators, has already done enough to stop military rape and the commanders who are unable to stop the epidemic of sexual assault are totes trust-worthy! Phew! We have been covering the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), which would move the decision to prosecute cases of sexual assault from the chain of command to an independent prosecutor, for some time now. And Yesterday we urged readers to call their senators to push them to vote that it go forward. Sadly, the bill, sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was blocked by the senate. What makes this particularly frustrating is that the bill received more votes for it (55) than against it (45). But it fell five votes shy of the 60 votes needed to override a fillibuster. And so, on March 6, 2014, the a bill that would have dared to challenge the status quo and actually advocate for survivors of sexual assault, was shut down by a procedural vote that stopped it from even moving to the senate floor.
The need for the MJIA is painfully obvious. As I wrote yesterday,
This bill is extremely important and would challenge the status quo culture of rape and impunity ravaging our armed forces…. the MJIA is a very sensible bill that would move the decision to prosecute out of the hands of the Chain of Command and into the hands of an independent military prosecutor. Given that over a quarter of people sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone in the chain of command, the current system, which requires survivors to report their assault to their superior within said chain of command, is counterproductive an dangerous. The military is creating a system in which rape survivors must report their rapes to people who are friends with the rapists, or the rapists themselves. This obviously inhibits reporting. Logic tells us this. And so does the fact that 62% of those who did report perceived some retaliation for doing so.
The senate voted to let a competing bill, the Victims Protection Act, move forward to a vote. This bill, sponsored by Claire McCaskill (D-MO), one of the only three women to vote against the MJIA, would make some modest reforms but would keep decision-making in response to a report of violence within the chain of command.
The statements of the senators opposing the MJIA reveal blind obedience of the army, expectations that defy logic and the historical record, and a glaring and infuriating disregard for the people who are raped and assaulted in the armed forces. The fact that these statements and votes against the MJIA were made on the same day it was revealed that the top Army prosecutor for sexual assault cases has been suspended for sexual assault, makes this even more disturbing.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) actually said (out loud!) that enough has been done about the whole military rape thing:
We have been working on the problem of sexual assault, and the reality is that Congress has been aggressive in instituting reforms to tackle sexual assault in the military…These reforms have strengthened the protections and the care of the victims while preserving the rights of the accused. These historic reforms are vital to ensuring a sound, effective, and fair military justice system.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) explained he trusts the commanders, even though they are part of the culture and system which which fails to punish rapists but inhibits, intimidates and re-traumatizes rape victims:
Will we hold those commanders responsible for everything that happens under their command, or will we take that responsibility and shift it to a lawyer? That’s what this is really all about…I trust these commanders. I trust them.
McCain may not care about the victims but he really doesn’t want to hurt the commander’s feelings. So sensitive.
The always lovely Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was eager to criticize Gillibrand on a personal level and attribute the bill, which has received by partisan support from people including RAND PAUL AND TED CRUZ, to a liberal agenda conspiracy:
What Senator Gillibrand is doing is way off base. It will not get us to the promised land of having a more victim friendly system to report sexual assaults…. This is about liberal people [like TED CRUZ AND RAND PAUL?] wanting to gut the military justice system– social engineering run amok. I want to help victims, but I also want a fair trial… It is only 3 percent who make these decisions. They are our wing commanders, our squadron commanders, our fleet commanders, our brigade commanders the people we entrust and hold accountable for fighting and winning the war.
We have had some bad commanders. However, to those who command the military, I have confidence in you. You will take this system to a new level. You have to up your game, but I am not going to fire you. Thank you for commanding the finest military in the world. I will do nothing to say you are morally bankrupt, because I don’t believe that.
In case you missed it, the people who support the MJIA are not concerned with empowering survivors of sexual assault, according to Graham. They just hate the army and consider each and every commander morally bankrupt. They’re not just liberal… they’re unamerican.
What is so amazing about this debate is that it did not fall neatly along partisan lines, as mentioned above,. I never thought I’d write the following words, but Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) made an excellent case for the MJIA, highlighting the logic of the bill and the absurdity and cruelty of opposing it.
the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We have known that sexual assault in the military has been a problem decade after decade. I think it is time we tried something new….
To me it is as simple as this: Should you have to report your assault to your boss? This is what we are talking about. What if your boss goes drinking with the person who assaulted you, who is friends with them? Wouldn’t we want the person you complained to completely outside the chain of command? Wouldn’t we want to have lawyers involved whose specialty is this type of situation?
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