Congress Redefines Rape For Military
Congress Redefines Rape Laws For Military
Congress passed a broad set of changes to U.S. military personnel policy late Thursday, forcing the Pentagon to revamp how it deals with cases of sexual assault and rape in the ranks.
The changes would be a victory for the estimated tens of thousands of troops who have been sexually abused in recent years, as well as a triumph for the growing number of women serving in Congress, who pushed for reform.
Such crimes have surged in recent years; the Pentagon estimates that 26,000 troops were assaulted or raped last year. But only a fraction of them, about 3,300, filed reports with military police or prosecutors in that time period.
The legislation would end the statute of limitations for cases of sexual assault or rape; bar military commanders from overturning jury convictions in sexual assault and rape cases; make it a crime to retaliate against people who report such crimes; mandate the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of such crimes; and give civilian defense officials more control over prosecutions.
Although significant, the changes would stop short of what some advocates want. Gillibrand is pushing to remove military commanders from any involvement in assault and rape cases and have them instead assigned to specialized, independent military prosecutors. For months, she has met with nearly every other senator to lobby them to support her plan, which the Senate is expected to vote on next year.
But supporters say the reforms are the most extensive rewrite of the Uniform Code of Military Justice since the armed forces were integrated — and the most notable change since lawmakers agreed to end the ban on openly gay troops three years ago.
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation. Once the changes are implemented, “we will have the most victim-friendly criminal justice system in the world,” McCaskill said in a recent interview.
Civilian advocates, including the Stop Abuse Campaign, have been pushing for the Child Victims Act in New York and other states, a bill that also overturns the statutes of limitations on rape. Rape is traumatic sexual violence and we know that most rape victims are unable to report their rapes when they happen. Statutes of limitations on sexual assault protect rapists and make it impossible for criminal justice to do their job.