As Congress continues its efforts to finalize the National Defense Appropriations Act—which will dictate all military spending in 2016—one issue has been met with heated contention: military sex crimes. As Stars & Stripes reports , frequent allies Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Senator Clair McCaskill of Missouri are now at odds over potential reform to military's response to sexual assault offenses.
According to reports and the senators' offices, the two Democrats disagree on whether or not the 2016 bill should provide for independent prosecutors—such as civilian district attorneys—to try military sex offenses. Gillibrand believes that these independent prosecutors outside the chain of command would foster a more impartial process of charging these crimes and cut down on the prevalence of retaliation among the ranks for service members who do come forward with accusations.
Senator McCaskill, on the other hand, feels that these measures are unnecessary and wants to keep prosecution of these crimes within the chain of command. Her office is focused on Pentagon statistics that show that military sexual assault reporting is up and overall instances are down. "I believe most of my Senate colleagues are aware of the concrete progress being made and the historic protections we now have in place for our victims," McCaskill said in a statement.
REPORTING, RETALIATION, AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Perhaps McCaskill's most interesting counterpoint to Gillibrand's retaliation concerns is her assertion that removing the chain of command from the prosecuting process confuses matters of accountability when these crimes occur. As her office points out, most of the retaliation reported is peer-to-peer, not from commanders who are receiving the initial complaints. To remove the commanders from the process could mean less oversight over those involved and less responsibility taken for retaliation that occurs among the ranks.
Still, McCaskill's office did admit that the retaliation numbers are “too high.” While concern over military sexual assault matters remains pronounced among lawmakers, it is unclear how big the debate over this issue will become as deadlines for the National Defense Appropriations Act loom.
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