Tester stands with women veterans to crack down on military sexual assault
Senator backs bipartisan bill to empower survivors, hold commanders accountable
(U.S. SENATE) – Standing alongside women veterans from every branch of the U.S. military, Senator Jon Tester today announced his support for wide-reaching, bipartisan legislation that will crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.
Tester’s bill will hold military commanders accountable for prosecuting sexual assault in their ranks by requiring automatic civilian review when a commander chooses not to prosecute an assault allegation. The Defense Department estimates that there were 26,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2012.
“Our military is the strongest in the world, but military sexual assault hurts survivors and sends the wrong message about our values,” Tester said. “This bill holds commanders accountable for reducing sexual assault and punishing perpetrators by increasing oversight and sending the message that sexual assault is always unacceptable.”
Tester’s bill, which also strips commanders of their authority to overturn a guilty verdict of someone convicted of rape or sexual assault, is sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and recently won approval from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
At today’s press conference, Tester, McCaskill, and Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), listened as retired female military officers from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard backed the Senators’ bill.
“This proposal is important for victims, and it’s going to address this issue-victims need to be empowered, and this bill empowers the victims,” said Colonel Lisa Schenck, a retired Navy Judge Advocate General.
“This boils down to a commander’s ability to exercise good, fair, strong leadership,” said retired Navy Captain Kathy Beasley. “As a commander, I would have wanted these reforms to deal with tough cases.”
In addition to requiring an automatic review of commanders’ decisions, the bill also makes it a crime to retaliate against a service member who reports a crime, provides survivors with independent legal advice, and requires automatic discharge for a service member convicted of rape or sexual assault.
Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is also the lead sponsor of the Ruth Moore Act, which will make it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to get the benefits they need.