In recent years past, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has called for the installation independent prosecutors into the military justice system to better identify, try, and prosecute sexual assault offenders. Those efforts have been narrowly defeated in the Senate, but, as Stars and Stripes reports, Gillibrand will be re-proposing the amendment to the annual defense bill this year with new congressional allies and new military sexual assault data.
This week, Gillibrand told the press that she will again propose the use of independent prosecutors to better employ an impartial perspective on sexual assault allegations among the ranks. Gillibrand has time and time asserted that these cases—which are pursued only with the approval on military commanders—are regularly influenced by cronyism and favoritism.
"The facts continue to show that the reforms Congress has passed to date aren’t enough and it’s time to instead put decision-making power into the hands of non-biased, professionally trained, military prosecutors," the senator said in a new statement.
Gillibrand is re-approaching her proposal with new data: she's armed with a report of 329 separate 2014 sexual assault cases from four major military bases. In those cases, she found a "troubling command culture" that often avoided prosecuting sexual assault suspects in favor of light, non-judicial punishments. "Instead of pursuing justice, it appears that in many cases, commanders do the exact opposite and use their powers to dispose of these troubling cases outside of a courtroom," the report states.
In one case, detailed by Military Times, a military investigation determined an enlisted member physically subdued a woman and sexually assaulted her. Commanders reviewing the case, however, decided that a court-martial wasn't necessary and instead elected to demote the Soldier, convicting him of simple battery.
"The case files suggest a continued large-scale systemic failure and an ingrained culture that protects the accused and ostracizes the survivor at the expense of the public and our service members' safety," Gillibrand says in the report.
The advocacy group Protect Our Defenders—which is backing Gillibrand's proposal—has developed a petition that not only appeals for the president's support but alleges that the Pentagon provided manipulated military sexual assault data to Congress. Last month, Gillibrand and Congressional ally Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa called for the White House to investigate whether or not retired Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld omitted military sexual assault information when testifying under oath in 2013.
While there has been a big push both inside and outside the military to quell the prevalence of sexual assault, it is questionable what progress has been made. In late 2014, a RAND survey revealed that over 60% of military sexual assault victims believed that they had experienced some form of retaliation from others—including commanders.
It’s also worth noting that, while Gillibrand is focused on identifying patterns and trends, each and every case is unique and should be evaluated on its own merit. Our firm has successfully represented many service members who have been either wrongfully accused of sexual assault, or have faced overaggressive prosecution. There is no doubt that the military should continue to take steps to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, but it’s important that the rights of both accusers, and the accused, are not violated.
If you are a military servicemember facing a criminal allegation, then Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is ready to hear your story. Attorney Jordan is a 10+ year U.S. Army veteran who now protects the rights and interests of armed service members stationed all over the world.
It is possible to face the allegations against you with a proven advocate by your side. Contact us today to request your free case evaluation.