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Military leaders, lawmakers grapple with response to sexual assault in the ranks

Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine both said they wished a stronger bill addressing sexual assault had passed.

WASHINGTON — This year, military leaders and lawmakers debated for months about how to deal with sexual assault in the ranks.

This month, landmark legislation did pass, but some people complained the overhaul didn't go far enough.

Department of Defense statistics show that since 2010, approximately 135,000 active duty service members have been sexually assaulted and about 509,000 active duty personnel have experienced sexual harassment.

"My pledge to all the survivors of military sexual violence: to those who reported and were ostracized, to those who reported and felt let down by the military justice system, and to all those who are afraid to report and may be suffering alone— we will keep fighting for you," said Rep Jackie Speier (D-California).

Also weighing in was Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Virginia, 2nd District), the vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

She said: "Something needs to change to make the process better to make sure that we can seek justice for those people who have been wronged."

The Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military Fiscal Year 2020 shows a slight increase in the number of reported cases.

In total, there were 6,290 sexual assault reports by service members for incidents that occurred during military service last year.

The Army and Marine Corps saw slight increases in the number of reports, while the Navy and Air Force saw small decreases.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) sponsored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have entirely removed military commanders from the chain of command in sexual assault cases, replacing them with independent military special victims prosecutors.

But, a new, watered-down version, still allows commanders to conduct the trials, pick jury members, approve witnesses, and grant immunity.

"This bill does not reform the military justice system in a way that will truly help survivors get justice," Gillibrand said.

And, Virginia's two Senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, said they wished a stronger bill had passed, and they are hopeful that one will pass in the future.

"I think the military made some improvements, but we still saw a disproportionate number of, particularly sexual assaults, that weren't being handled I think in an appropriate way," said Warner.

Added Kaine: "I am a strong supporter of the Gillibrand version which would take out of the chain of command the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes."

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