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Ayotte: Legislation Likely in Military Sexual Assault Scandal

Image: Ayotte: Legislation Likely in Military Sexual Assault Scandal

By Sandy Fitzgerald   |   Sunday, 09 Jun 2013 02:13 PM

Tough bipartisan legislation is likely coming to help combat sexual abuses in the military, said Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte Sunday, but the military chain of command will still need to be involved in discipline and investigations.

"No problem in the military gets solved without the chain of command," said the New Hampshire Republican on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "But they need to be held accountable -- they can't be let off the hook."

Ayotte, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that as the wife of an Iraq war veteran, she respects the military, but its leaders "need to be fired" if they can't bring the pervasive problem of sexual assaults under control.

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Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also an Armed Services Committee member, said on the show that the military may understand that there is a problem, but "what we have here is a crisis. We have 26,000 unwanted sexual contacts a year. Seventy percent of them are sexual assaults and rape."

But victims across the board fear retaliation for reporting the incidents, and Gillibrand has put together a legislative proposal to prosecute sexual-assault crimes separately from the typical military chain of command.

"Until you have transparency, you are not going to have accountability," said Gillibrand.

California Rep. Jackie Speier, who is proposing the STOP Act in the House, which is similar to Gillibrand's proposal, agreed.

"The military is an enabler," said the Democratic lawmaker, who said there needs to be a distinction between disciplinary measures and violent crimes.

"They're enablers because this has been a problem for 25 years," said Speier. "The scandals keep happening."

Gillibrand noted that in other countries, such as Israel and the United Kingdom, prosecution of serious crimes has been removed from the chain of command and handed over to trained military prosecutors.

"We believe the same change would make a big difference," said Gillibrand.

Prosecuting sexual assault crimes are particularly difficult within the chain of command, Speier said, because "typically with the chain of command, you have someone who knows the assailant, or may even be the assailant."

This often results in non-judicial punishment that leads to the victim losing his or her military career through an honorable discharge, said Speier. But when the decision lies with a military prosecutor, the decision about how to pursue and prosecute sexual assault cases can be made without pressure from the chain of command.

"This not just a women's issue," said Gillibrand. "Half the victims are men."

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If the problem isn't brought under control, the military could lose strength, and "won't be as strong as you would be without this in your ranks," she said.

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