Denver – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, bipartisan colleagues, and several advocates introduced new bipartisan legislation, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act.
The military justice reform bill would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, and provides for several new prevention provisions such as more and better training for commanders and increased physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate.
“We cannot accept the lack of action to end sexual violence within the military,” said Bennet. “This bipartisan legislation is a step in the right direction to protect our service members who voluntarily put their lives on the line to defend our country. We need to increase accountability and ensure survivors have the protections they deserve, and my colleagues and I will continue our work to push this bill across the finish line.”
“During my nine years of service, I have witnessed the military’s shortcomings when handling sexual assault cases firsthand,” said Army Officer and Marine Corps Veteran, First Lieutenant Taylor Marsh. “After filing almost two dozen formal sexual assault reports, I’m eager to see change within the military’s response and handling of sexual assault and harassment cases. I thank Senator Bennet and his colleagues for introducing this legislation to bring us closer to change.”
Taylor Marsh is a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army currently assigned in Colorado.
Bennet co-sponsored the Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013 when it was first introduced. However, since its initial introduction, unrestricted reports of sexual assaults in the military have doubled, yet the rate of prosecution and conviction has been halved. One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, the most recent year data has been published by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD data also show there were nearly 21,000 instances of sexual assault — a massive increase over the 14,900 estimated in the previous 2016 survey. The number of women in the military who experienced sexual assault increased by 50%, from 8,600 in FY2016 to 13,000 in FY2018.
Recent reporting details the critical shift in Congress and the Pentagon to finally pass legislation that delivers major, long-overdue changes in military laws that have prevented justice.
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would take critical steps to create a more professional and transparent military justice system for serious crimes — including rape and sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography, and negligent homicide — and address the need for sexual assault prevention that DoD has not implemented. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Move the decision on whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors, while leaving misdemeanors and uniquely military crimes within the chain of command. By moving this work off of the commander’s plate, it will empower commanders to focus on mission critical activities—while specifically preserving the authorities that a commander needs to provide strong leadership and a successful command climate.
- Ensure the Department of Defense supports criminal investigators and military prosecutors through the development of unique skills needed to properly handle investigations and cases related to sexual assault and domestic violence.
- Require the Secretary of Defense to survey and improve the physical security of military installations – including locks, security cameras, and other passive security measures – to increase safety in lodging and living spaces for service members.
- Increase, and improve training and education on military sexual assault throughout our armed services. This training would help shift the culture in the military and ensure that the armed services can enforce a no-tolerance zone for sexual assault and other grievous crimes.
In addition to Bennet, the legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Angus King (I-Maine), Michael Braun (R-Ind.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act is endorsed by VFW, IAVA, Vietnam Veterans of America, Protect our Defenders, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, SWAN, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), Common Defense, Veterans Recovery Project.