WASHINGTON – Arguing that “we’re past the point of tinkering with the current system,” Senator Chuck Grassley today worked to build bipartisan support for the Military Justice Improvement Act in advance of a vote of 55 to 45 by senators which defeated the bill on a procedural motion that required three-fifths of the votes for passage.
Click here to watch Grassley’s floor statement.
The legislation sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with Grassley as an original co-sponsor, would have empowered victims to come forward by taking the judicial process for sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.
The proposed reform would move the decision about whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. Thirty-seven crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave, would be excepted and remain within the chain of command. A companion measure is pending in the House of Representatives.
“We’ve had promises from military leaders for years and years about tackling the problem of sexual assault within the current system, but the problem isn’t getting better. The current system has a deterrent effect on reporting sexual assault, and if sexual assault cases aren’t reported, they can’t be prosecuted,” Grassley said. “Something as serious and life-altering as sexual assault requires bold action. And when young people make the commitment to serve their country in uniform and put themselves in harm’s way to defend and protect America’s freedoms, they deserve to know their rights will be protected, including access to justice.”
Last fall, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, known as DACOWITS, voted overwhelmingly in support of every component of the Military Justice Improvement Act. This committee was created in 1951 by the Secretary of Defense and includes civilian and retired military women and men to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces.
Grassley said that sexual assault in the military isn’t a military matter but a law enforcement matter, and that the Military Justice Improvement Act does justice to the U.S. military code of honor, which is based on integrity and fidelity to the rule of law.
Below is the text of remarks made today by Grassley during Senate debate, along with a recent opinion column in The Des Moines Register and a recent story about the leadership of Air Force Lt. General Michelle Johnson, an Iowan, in combating sexual assault in the military.
Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Thursday, March 6, 2014
I am proud to partner with Senator Gillibrand as an original cosponsor of the Military Justice Improvement Act and I would like to say a few words about why it is needed.
I appreciate the fact that a large number of common sense reforms were included in the National Defense Authorization Act.
These changes were long overdue.
However, we are past the point of tinkering with the current system and hoping that does the trick.
We have had promises about tackling the problem of sexual assault within the current system for years and years but the problem isn’t getting any better.
We don’t have the luxury of time to try some new reforms of the current system and hope that has an impact.
What’s more, the current system appears to be part of the problem.
Let me elaborate on what I mean by that.
We know from a recent Defense Department report, 50 percent of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed that nothing would be done with their report.
Seventy-four percent of females and 60 percent of males perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault.
Sixty-two percent of victims who reported a sexual assault indicated they perceived some form of professional, social, and/or administrative retaliation.
We can talk about protections for victims and we can enact more protections as we did in the National Defense Authorization Act.
But, the fact remains that the current structure of the Military Justice System is having a deterrent effect on reporting of sexual assault. If sexual assault cases aren’t reported, they can’t be prosecuted.
If sexual assault isn’t prosecuted, predators will remain in the military and that results in a perception that sexual assault is tolerated in the military culture.
That destroys morale and it destroys lives.
If an enemy tried to sew that kind of discord among our military, we wouldn’t tolerate it, but we are doing it to ourselves.
The men and women who have volunteered to place their lives on the line deserve better than that and our military readiness demands it.
Taking prosecutions out of the hands of commanders and giving them to professional prosecutors who are independent of the chain of command will help ensure impartial justice for the men and women of our armed forces.
I know some senators will be nervous about the fact that the military is lobbying against this legislation.
I have the greatest respect for our military leaders, but Congress has given the military leadership more than enough time to try and fix the current system.
We can’t wait any longer.
We also hear that this measure will affect the ability of commanders to retain “good order and discipline.”
Our legislation in no way takes away the ability of commanders to punish troops under their command for military infractions.
Commanders also can and should be held accountable for the climate under their command.
But, the point here is that sexual assault is a law enforcement matter – not a military one.
If anyone wants official assurances that we are on the right track, we can take confidence in the fact that an advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of Defense himself supports our reforms.
On September 27, 2013, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) voted overwhelmingly in support of each and every one of the components of the legislation before us.
DACOWITS was created in 1951 by then Secretary of Defense, George C. Marshall.
The Committee is composed of civilian and retired military women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the Armed Forces.
Historically, the recommendations by DACOWITS have been very instrumental in effecting changes to laws and policies pertaining to military women.
This isn’t an outside advocacy group or ad hoc panel. It’s a longstanding advisory committee handpicked by the Secretary of Defense and it supports the substance of our legislation to a tee.
It’s easier to support incremental reform.
In fact, it is often prudent to try small reforms before making bigger changes.
I understand why some senators are nervous about a total overhaul of the military justice system.
It isn’t something I approach lightly.
However, we have waited for years as various initiatives to tackle this problem have been tried.
When we are talking about something as serious and life altering as sexual assault, we cannot afford to wait any longer than we already have.
The time has come to act decisively to change the military culture.
We need a clean break from the system where sexual assault isn’t reported because of a perception that justice won’t be done.
Our men and women serving this country deserve nothing less and they deserve it now.
They shouldn’t have to wait any longer for justice.
For those reluctant to take this step now, I would say: if the more modest reforms proposed by others prove insufficient and we have to come back and enact our reforms at a later time, how will you justify your vote today?
Now is the time for bold action and I would urge all my colleagues to join us.