Senate bill removing military sexual assault cases from chain of command still short on votes

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Senate bill removing military sexual assault cases from chain of command still short on votes

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill next week that would change how sexual assault cases are handled in the military by removing the decision of whether or not to prosecute those assaults from the chain of command.

Right now, the act's supporters, including Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, are short on votes.

The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, will need 60 votes to pass the Senate. So far, it has support from 53 senators, including 44 Democrats and 9 Republicans.

Senator Dean Heller, and other supporters of the bill, argue that instead of allowing senior commanders to decide if a sexual assault case should be prosecuted, independent military prosecutors should make that call.

During a press conference Thursday, Heller said the bill would ultimately accomplish three vital goals.

"One, is that it allows a victim of sexual assault to feel confident that he or she can report a crime," Heller said. "Number two: a victim of sexual assault must be protected from retaliation. And, finally, third, a victim of sexual assault must be confident--confident--that just will be served."

A panel mandated by Congress to conduct an independent review of how sexual assaults in the military are investigated and prosecuted released its initial findings last week. The group concluded that senior commanders should continue overseeing sexual assault cases, noting there's no evidence that removing senior commanders from this role will result in fewer assaults or that more victims would come forward to report their abuse.

The Department of Defense estimates that more than 26,000 incidents of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact took place within the military in 2012.