Reacting to a week of shockingly bad news about sexual assault in the military, Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced Friday that he is pushing to reform the military judicial process and provide more support for victims.
“This crime is underreported and under-prosecuted in the military and I am going to be proposing reforms along with colleagues that will … encourage more women to come forward and allow enable perpetrators to be prosecuted successfully,” Blumenthal said during a press conference at the state Capitol.
The Pentagon released estimates this week that there were 26,000 sex crimes in the military last fiscal year, a 37 percent increase from the year before.
The report came on top of news that two high-profile military leaders in charge of preventing sex crimes were themselves accused of sexual assault.
President Barack Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military leaders Thursday to discuss the situation and reported that some said they were “ashamed” of the situation.
Blumenthal, flanked by victims’ and women’s advocates, said that while there were 26,000 estimated sex crimes in the military, only 3,000 were actually reported and 238 successfully prosecuted.
Blumenthal said he has joined a bipartisan group of legislators to push for legislation that would take the decision of whether to prosecute a case out of the chain of command. The problem now is that very likely the perpetrator reports through the same chain of command, he said.
Instead, the decision would be left up to trained and experienced military prosecutors, a move he thinks would help deter these kind of crimes.
Blumenthal and colleagues are also recommending several new policies in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that would:
· Establish a victim’s compensation system.
· Create a crime victims’ rights ombudsman, and
· Require those convicted of sexual assault to be thrown out of the military with a punitive discharge.
Another measure would give victims the same kind of protections afforded to victims in civilian court, such as ensuring they have a special counsel to represent them in court, Blumenthal said.
“Changing the culture will require strong advocacy and a steadfast fight. I know there may be some who resist it, but I think in the long run the military itself will welcome and benefit from these changes,” Blumenthal said.
Laura Cordes, executive Director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, said there is a rape culture in the military.
“The numbers are staggering, the outrage is undeniable and Congress needs to act, not only to prevent military sexual violence but to change the deplorable response to service members that report sexual abuse,” Cordes said.
Having an ombudsman, advocates and restitution would help victims, she said.
Teresa C. Younger, executive director of the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Woman, said there must be a change in the military culture.
“The military cannot be a full and viable career option for women unless they can perform their jobs at the greatest level,” Younger said.