Earlier this month, the Defense Department released its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military No surprise –with the rise of the #MeToo movement, reports of sexual assaults have been increasing. In 2017, 5,277 victims reported a sexual assault (4193 women and 1084 men) that had occurred during military service, an increase of 10 percent from year before.
In addition to the annual Department of Defense document, Senator Gillibrand and Human Rights Watch independently released reports. That was why Senator Gillibrand introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act which addresses the fact that while reporting has been going up, only a small fraction of the perpetrators are actually held accountable for their crimes.
Last year, the DOD had the lowest conviction rates for their assailants on record, at just 9 percent. According to a survey conducted by the Pentagon, 60 percent of victims claim to have experienced some type of retaliation after reporting the assault.More than 70 percent of cases considered for court martial were never even referred to court martial proceedings.
That same Pentagon survey found that the uptick in assault reports only represents 30 percent of the actual sexual assaults since 7 out of 10 victims did not report their assault in an “unrestricted” (actionable) manner to their chain of command, showing a severe lack of confidence in the current system
The Military Justice Improvement Act addresses the need to change how the military prosecutes serious crimes like sexual assault and to remove fears survivors have about reporting their assaults. If passed, this would designate independent, trained, professional military prosecutors to handle most cases while allowing 37 uniquely military crimes to remain within the chain of command. In addition, all crimes punishable by less than one year of confinement (Article 15, non-judicial punishment), would remain within the chain of command (see excluded offenses here).
Although the Military Justice Improvement Act has earned a majority bipartisan congressional support for the past 2 years, it was filibustered yet again.
What is particularly disturbing is that virtually all of our military allies (United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Germany, Norway, and Australia) have already moved reporting and prosecution of violent sex crimes outside of the chain of command.