The United States military is the ultimate team effort. Exceptional people from our different military branches rely on each other and work together to protect our nation.
Sexual assault among members of the military has threatened this team effort for far too long. The passage of the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act of 2021 will help address this problem.
Sadly, the problem of sexual assault in the military has existed for years and government efforts to combat it have largely failed to make an impact.
The Defense Department’s 2018 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military found that approximately 20,500 service members experienced sexual assault, an increase from an estimated 14,900 in 2016.
This dramatic and troubling increase is simply unacceptable. It is time for a new approach. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have come together in a bipartisan way to offer the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, which would take sexual assault prosecutions out of the hands of military commanders and put these cases under the discretion of a specialized prosecutor.
Retired Col. Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor, explains why this is so important: “The senior military leadership consistently tells Congress that ‘commanders are the solution’ and to trust them to solve the sexual-assault crisis. … It is time for Congress to stop giving the failing military leadership the benefit of the doubt and pass real reform empowering military prosecutors. Enough is enough.”
The legislation also mandates increased training and education on military sexual assault for uniformed officers and enlisted leaders and within military service academies. This is necessary as young military women face a strong risk of sexual assault.
The bill provides for several new prevention provisions and for increased physical security measures. These enhanced security measures will increase safety in the lodging and living spaces for service members.
Though increasingly rare to see a group of bipartisan Senators rally around a common effort, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act has already gained the support of Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Republican Senators like Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are also supporting the bill.
The support of Senator Ernst, a combat veteran, sexual assault survivor, and mother of a daughter at West Point, underscores the complicated issues underlying this problem. “As a former combat commander and a survivor of sexual assault, I understand the traumatic experiences too many of our service members have faced. Sexual assault has no place in our military—or anywhere else—and it’s far past time we take more steps toward preventing and reducing these heart-wrenching crimes. This new, bipartisan bill—the result of Republicans and Democrats working together—will bolster prevention programs, education, and training; improve how we hold perpetrators accountable while ensuring commanders still have visibility of what’s going on in their unit; and equip military prosecutors with the skills necessary to handle sexual and domestic violence cases.”
Our nation has the greatest fighting force in the world. The United States military has altered the course of history time and time again, due to the bravery, sacrifice, and decency of its soldiers.
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act will help protect those within its ranks and encourage respect for all members of the military, so this proud tradition can continue.