July 31, 2013 — "Despite powerful evidence that the military's approach to sexual assault needs an overhaul, the resistance to change among military brass and their enablers on Capitol Hill remains fierce," a New York Times editorial states.
The editorial explains that although the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a 2014 defense authorization bill that included some reforms, the measure lacks a bipartisan provision by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that includes "the boldest fix offered so far."
Under Gillibrand's proposal, "independent military prosecutors, rather than commanders," would have "the power to decide which sexual assault crimes to try," which "would correct a major flaw in the military justice system that deters victims from reporting attacks and results in an abysmally low prosecution rate," the editorial states. The measure currently has bipartisan support from 44 senators, according to the editorial.
The editorial notes that while Gillibrand's proposal "is no cure-all, and enacting it remains an uphill struggle" that "this is an important fight." If the proposal gets a vote on the Senate floor and passes, it would still need to survive negotiations with the House. To date, House leadership has not allowed similar measures to be debated. The editorial urges "Americans [who are] appalled by the estimated 26,000 episodes of unwanted sexual contact in the military last year and fed up with the broken promises of zero tolerance for such behavior" to root "for Ms. Gillibrand and her bipartisan coalition to succeed" (New York Times, 7/29).