(BIVN) – Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono is standing with a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers and advocates in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act.
The bill would establish an impartial, fair, and accountable military justice system to address the crisis of sexual assault.
The legislation, if passed, would put the decision to prosecute serious crimes like sexual assault into the hands of impartial military prosecutors instead of potentially biased military commanders.
“The chain of command in the military is pretty much deemed a sacrosanct,” Sen. Hirono said during a recent press conference. “And because of that we have – basically, in the military – institutionalized a process that protects the assaulters.”
“Because you often have to go to the very people – sometimes the perpetrators of these assaults themselves. Or definitely a chain of command not sympathetic to disrupting the lives of people who have served in the military for a long time,” Hirono said. “That does not result in justice for the victims. If this were the case in the civilian context, do you think any of us w ould consider that fair? Do you think any of us would stand for it?”
“It is about time to take these decisions out of the hands of people who are in an inherent conflict and moving these cases forward and putting them in the hands of professional JAG officers,” the Hawaii senator said.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand re-introduced the legislation.
“Even four years after military assault was forced out of the shadows by survivors and after renewed pledges by military brass of ‘we got this’… the system remains broken,” Gillibrand said. “The problem hasn’t gone away. Military sexual assault is as pervasive as ever.”
During the Thursday press conference, Gillibrand introduced Adrian Perry, whose family has been directly impacted by the military’s current system.
On Friday, the Department of Defense released information about the number of sexual assault reports made at installations around the world for fiscal years 2013 through 2016. Its important to note that the number of reports listed for an installation doesn’t necessarily mean that the alleged incident occurred there, since service members can report allegations of sexual assault at any time and at any place.
Since 2012, the department’s annual reports on sexual assault in the military have reported regular declines in the prevalence rates of sexual assault among the force.
For the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, the document shows zero reports in Fiscal Year 2016, 2015 or 2014. Down from 12 reported in 2013.
According to Gillibrand’s further review of the numbers:
- The Department of Defense estimated that there were nearly 15,000 sexual assaults against service members in fiscal year 2016.
- 7 out of 10 service members did not report their assault in an unrestricted, or actionable, manner to their chain of command, which the Senator says shows a severe lack of confidence in the current system.
- Of those 30% who were brave enough to make an unrestricted report, approximately 60% of them told the Department of Defense that they had experienced some form of retaliation for reporting.
- More than 70% of cases considered for court martial were never even referred to court martial proceedings.
- Just 9% of cases ended in conviction.
“So I urge every here with me and who is listening, please speak out about this. Raise your voice. Tell your story. Let’s do everything we can to pass this bill. We need access to a justice system that is independent, well trained, professional and fair,” Gillibrand said.
Sexual assault and harassment awareness is at a fever pitch across the Unite States, as a new claims are impacting every institution. Social media has helped to propel the movement, as was noted by Kathleen McGilvray, CEO of YWCA Hawaii Island, during the October 28th Walk-A-Mile In Her Shoes event held in Hilo.