Gillibrand optimistic on push for reform in military sexual assault cases

Jan 27, 2014

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been pushing hard to reform the way the military handles sexual assaults. Her proposal was dropped once, but she’s hopeful it will come up for a vote again and succeed. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke at Jefferson Community College in Watertown Thursday.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke at Jefferson Community College in Watertown Thursday.
Credit Joanna Richards

Gillibrand says it’s hearing the personal stories of victims that has spurred her crusade. Sexual assault crimes are terrible in themselves – but she says the response is often equally appalling.

"When they reported these cases, their commanders said, ‘It’s your own fault,’ or, ‘He might not have been a gentleman, but it wasn’t a rape.’ These kinds of responses are not right, they’re not proper, and they’re not what our men and women deserve," she said.

Gillibrand has poured her outrage into a tough fight to challenge a fundamental military principle she says gets in the way of effective prosecution: control by the chain of command. She says it’s no wonder victims aren’t getting justice. Commanders have no legal training, might know victims and perpetrators personally, and their careers can suffer from the appearance of poor discipline in their units if cases go forward.

Instead, Gillibrand wants sexual assaults and other serious crimes to be handled by independent military prosecutors.

In a recent visit to Watertown, she said her effort is gaining ground.

"I’m very optimistic. In fact, our support is growing every single day," she said. "I’ve talked to a few senators in the last week, and I’ve gotten very favorable responses."

The legislation could come up for a vote in February.