New legislation to bring justice to survivors of sexual violence in the United States military is currently under debate in the Senate. Sexual Violence within the United State’s armed forces is perpetrated widely against both men and women.
Contributing to the problem, is the pervasive culture of silence within the military ensuring most attacks either go unreported – or when they do, survivors are punished rather than supported. According to research by the Department of Defence, 62% of those who reported their attacks experienced some form retaliation.
One aspect of the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), is a change in how cases of sexual violence are reported and examined. Currently, Commanding Officers have discretion in sexual violence cases and what form of punishment, if any, the perpetrator should receive. Often the victim and accused are both in the Commanders direct chain of command, allowing for potential bias. In addition the Commanding Officers have the ability to decide if charges will be laid, to select jury members, and to modify or overturn court decisions. The MJIA seeks to reassign the convening authority for serious crimes to an impartial military Prosecutor and out of the hands of Commanders.
This Bill has bi-partisan support, as well as the support of Veterans groups and Service Women’s groups. However, while all agree that action against military sexual violence needs to be taken, some feel that the changes would undermine the authority of Commanding Officers. Due to political stalling and delays in the senate, a vote on the legislation is held off and debates could move into December.
Writing in the New York Times, Service Women’s Action Network Executive Director, Anu Bhagwati and Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan said, “This is not a fight to be won by military leadership or survivors, or one senator over another. It is a fight to strengthen military justice for our men and women in uniform.”