Who Should Handle Military Sexual Assault Cases?

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Lawmakers are demanding a change in how the military deals with sexual assault cases, insisting that prosecutors handle those cases, not commanders.

A Pentagon survey recently found that tens of thousands of victims of unwanted sexual contact never come forward.

The numbers are staggering. Last year alone there were an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military. Of those, only about 3,500 were reported.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing legislation that would change the way the military handles these cases.

"Too often these brave men and women are in the fight of their life, and it is not on some far-off foreign soil," Gillibrand said. "It's right within their own ranks, with their commanding officer, as victims of horrific acts of sexual violence."

Gillibrand's proposal would take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. It would give military prosecutors, rather than the commanders, the power to decide which cases move forward.

"There is no accountability because the trust that any justice is possible has been irreparably broken under current system, where commanders hold all the cards as to whether a case will move forward or not," Gillibrand said.

Pentagon officials are opposed to the changes. Military leaders argue they must be the ones in charge of policing their ranks.

"Command authority is the most critical mechanism for ensuring discipline, accountability, and unit cohesion," Gen. Ray Odierno said.

Lawmakers say that hasn't been effective. Tea Party favorites Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kansas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are backing Gillibrands efforts.

She needs 60 votes for the measure to pass Senate and 46 are currently on board.

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