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Protect our soldiers from sexual assault

Protect our soldiers from sexual assault

Military commanders have proven they can't be trusted to protect soldiers from sex offenders within

What better way to serve the people who protect our country than by protecting them from abuse within their ranks?

Apparently, members of the U.S. Senate don't see that as a priority.

Which is why senators considering a new defense spending bill on Tuesday refused to even go on the record to vote on a bill sponsored by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand that would take power over military sexual assault cases out of the hands of military commanders and put it where it belongs — in the hands of military prosecutors.

The bill — known as the Military Justice Improvement Act — would simply move the decision on whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.

It still would leave military crimes and other less serious crimes to the oversight of the chain of command. So it would not strip commanders of their power to discipline soldiers for other violations.

Military commanders have proven over the past several years to be ineffective in reducing the incidents of sexual assault within the military or in seeing that perpetrators are adequately punished for their criminal acts.

Instead, incidents routinely get brushed under the rug, as victims are discouraged from pursuing charges against their aggressors.

In its 2014 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, the Department of Defense reported that at least 20,000 members of the military experienced at least one sexual assault during 2014. Out of all those serving in the military, that works out to one of every 20 women and one out of every 100 men.

In addition, the Pentagon reported that a vast majority of cases went unreported (less than one out of five) and that of those soldiers who did report assaults, 62 percent experienced "professional, social, or administrative retaliation or punishment from their commanders and their peers."

Other private surveys and reports support the view of the military's hostile culture toward sexual assault victims, the favoritism shown toward military commanders accused of crimes, and the preferred method of dealing with such assault cases as being to make them disappear.

Despite a 20-year stated policy of "zero tolerance" for sexual assault and additional measures taken three years ago to curb abuses, virtually no improvement has been made in reducing sexual assaults and bringing the offenders to justice.

Clearly, the process for reporting and prosecuting cases cannot be trusted to military commanders, despite their rhetoric and promises.

The fox cannot be trusted to guard the hen house any longer.

That's why Sen. Gillibrand's bill is so important, and why it's so abhorrent that her fellow senators wouldn't even put the bill up for a vote this year.

But seriously, who could blame them? Would you, as an elected official, want to go on the record with your constituents in support of military commanders who commit and cover up sexual assaults against our sons and daughters who serve and protect our country?

The Military Justice Improvement Act is a common-sense, fair and just solution to the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

Shame on the Senate for refusing to even put it up for a vote.

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