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March 10, 2014

In Our Opinion: Senate betrayed military victims of rape

The Daily Star

---- — An estimated 26,000 members of the United States military —mostly women — are sexually assaulted each year.

That is an astounding number. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

So, on Thursday, the United States Senate decided to change … nothing.

A bill sponsored by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand went down despite having a 55-45 majority because a filibuster requiring at least 60 votes could not be overcome.

Gillibrand, who represented what was our local 20th congressional district when she served in the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2009, has vowed to continue her battle to strip military commanders of their authority to prosecute — or not prosecute — rapes and other serious crimes. Gillibrand’s legislation would have given the choice to court martial alleged offenders to military trial lawyers outside of the chain of command.

Testimony revealed that many thousands of service people are afraid to report rapes and other heinous acts because they’re afraid of being ignored or — even worse — punished for coming forward.

The vote is a betrayal of what this country is supposed to represent. Unlike most of the filibustering that has frustrated Congress over the last five years, this wasn’t a case of the Republican Party digging in its heels to thwart a Democratic Party initiative.

The bill was supported by GOP leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Democrats Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri opposed it.

The bill was supported by 17 of the 20 women who serve in the Senate. Opponents said the power of military commanders to deal with the problem should not be taken away and that the chain of command is important to enforce discipline.

“The people who don’t trust the chain of the command are the victims,” Gillibrand said, and we agree.

It is incumbent upon us to honor the service of those who defend our country, but not those who commit acts of aggression and those who are lax in putting an end to this national embarrassment.

The problem would seem to begin at recruitment. Not all recruits make exemplary service members. The results of a study published online last week in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that more than 8 percent had intermittent explosive disorder, which includes anger they can’t control, BEFORE joining the Army.

Gillibrand will likely get another chance to pass her bill in a few months when the Senate begins work on a defense policy bill for the 2015 fiscal year. She isn’t giving up, and we shouldn’t give up on creating a military free of sexual assault.