The Senate on Thursday voted down a bid to overhaul the way the U.S. military handles cases of sexual assault by removing prosecution from the military chain of command.
Senators voted by 55-45 on a motion to proceed with a bill, sponsored by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, that would have removed the power to decide whether to try sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and put it into the hands of an independent military prosecutor.
The vote fell five short of the 60 needed under Senate rules for the measure to have gone ahead.
Gillibrand's "Military Justice Improvement Act" had been the focus of intense debate over how the Pentagon should handle assault cases since a study released in May 2013 estimated that incidents of unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, had jumped by 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000 cases from 19,000 the previous year.
The Department of Defense has also been struggling to deal with a spate of high-profile cases of sexual assault, including some involving personnel charged with combating the crime.
Several reforms have already been enacted, but Gillibrand pushed to go further, contending among other things that too few victims have been willing to come forward because of the need to deal with the chain of command.
However, her proposal was opposed by military leaders, who worried Gillibrand's proposal would weaken the command structure. Some key members of the Senate, including Gillibrand's fellow Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also opposed the measure.
Levin had argued against Gillibrand's bill on the Senate floor earlier on Thursday.
"I believe the strongest, most effective approach we can take to reduce sexual assault is to hold commanders accountable for establishing and maintaining a command climate that does not tolerate sexual assaults," Levin said.
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