Tester, Baucus introduce bill to protect military sexual assault survivors
Senators' bill ensures survivors can seek justice without fear of intimidation
(U.S. SENATE) – Montana U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus introduced bipartisan legislation yesterday to help ensure that military members who bravely come forward to report sexual assault are not harassed and intimidated while seeking justice. Baucus and Tester’s Article 32 Reform Act would make meaningful reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in order to prevent abusive treatment of sexual assault survivors during the pre-trial process known as Article 32 proceedings.
A recent article detailed the case of a female midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy who was subjected to roughly 30 hours of intimidating and invasive questioning by attorneys for her alleged assailants during an Article 32 proceeding. The pre-trial Article 32 investigation is required under the UCMJ before a case can be referred to a general court-martial.
“Protecting survivors when they come forward to report a crime is a critical step in holding perpetrators accountable,” Tester said. “We need to make sure everyone has equal access to justice without fearing retaliation, especially the men and women who serve in our armed forces.”
“No one should have to relive the trauma they endured in order to seek justice. This bill will strengthen our work to combat sexual violence in the military by creating an environment where survivors can come forward without fear of intimidation,” Baucus said. “We must double down on our efforts to protect survivors and prevent violence from happening in the first place.”
Tester and Baucus’ bill would bring Article 32 proceedings more in line with the conduct of preliminary hearings in civilian court. Specifically, the bill would:
- Limit the scope of Article 32 proceedings to the question of probable cause to help prevent abusive and unwarranted questioning of sexual assault victims. Currently, Article 32 proceedings serve as a “discovery tool” – a way to obtain as much information as possible about a case, even at the expense of the victim. This bill would require preliminary hearings only to determine whether there is probable cause that an offense has been committed by the accused.
- Require all Article 32 proceedings to be presided over by trained a military lawyer, and ensure that presiding officer has authority to take charge by requiring their rank to be equal to or higher than to the defense counsel.
- Require Article 32 proceedings to be recorded and a copy of the recording and a transcript to be made available to all parties, and the victim and victim’s counsel, upon request;
- Prevent crime victims from being forced to testify at Article 32 proceedings.
According to the Department of Defense, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in the military last year, but only 3,374 of them were reported. In addition, many sexual assault victims who do report these crimes drop out of the process before their cases even make it to trial.
Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Air Force, Lieutenant General Richard Harding, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that nearly 30 percent of sexual assault survivors who had originally agreed to help prosecute their alleged offenders changed their minds before trial. General Harding also noted that many survivors feel re-victimized by the investigative and judicial processes in the military.