National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Sens. Gillibrand, McCaskill Renew Military Sexual Assault Debate

Sens. Gillibrand, McCaskill Renew Military Sexual Assault Debate

February 7, 2014 — Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on Thursday held separate press conferences promoting two distinct measures aimed at reforming how the military addresses sexual assaults, The Hill's "Defcon Hill" reports.

Votes on the bills are expected next week, according to "Defcon Hill" (Herb, "Defcon Hill," The Hill, 2/6).

In December, the Senate voted 84-15 to pass a defense authorization bill that includes several changes to how the military addresses sexual assault. However, the measure did not include a proposal by Gillibrand that would remove military cases involving crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement from the chain of command, nor did it include several additional changes proposed by McCaskill (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/20/13).

Both senators are now promoting their proposals as individual bills.

Prospects for Gillibrand Bill

Gillibrand -- who was joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), several other senators and military sexual assault survivors -- is trying to garner seven additional votes to ensure passage of her bill (Zengerle, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 2/6). The measure will need at least 60 votes to defeat a likely filibuster from opponents in the Senate, according to "Defcon Hill" ("Defcon Hill," The Hill, 2/6).

Gillibrand's measure currently has support from 53 senators, including 44 Democrats and nine Republicans (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 2/6). Gillibrand said that while she supports the reforms in the defense authorization bill, they are "not enough to solve this problem within our military" ("Defcon Hill," The Hill, 2/6). She added, "Nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide [whether] an employee was sexually assaulted, except in the U.S. military."

Boxer added, "We think we can [get 60 votes], but I just say this: We shouldn't have to get to 60. It ought to be an up-or-down vote. Justice should never be filibustered" (Lesniewski, "#WGDB," Roll Call, 2/6).

McCaskill Bill

Meanwhile, McCaskill and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) held a press conference to promote their own bill, which includes several reforms that are considered less controversial but would not remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. The bill is expected to clear the 60-vote threshold, "Defcon Hill" reports ("Defcon Hill," The Hill, 2/6).

According to Reuters/Chicago Tribune, McCaskill's bill would, among other provisions, remove the "good solider" defense, which allows a military court to reduce the sentence of service members convicted of sexual assault if they have strong military records (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 2/6).

McCaskill at the press conference noted that a congressionally mandated panel tasked with examining the issue sided against Gillibrand's measure ("Defcon Hill," The Hill, 2/6).

McCaskill added that Gillibrand's proposal would in "no way ... allow victims to get through" the process of charging someone with sexual assault more quickly. She said, "The key here is making sure that they are respected and deferred to, that they have support, that they have their rights explained to them, and we have taken care of that in the underlying defense authorization bill" ("#WGDB," Roll Call, 2/6).