Gillibrand, Turner: Military Sexual Assault Bills Will Get Supermajority Vote Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. (Saul Loeb/ AFP via Getty Images)
By Sandy Fitzgerald | Friday, 14 May 2021 03:33 PM
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who are introducing legislation in their chambers to tackle the problem of sexual assaults in the nation's branches of the military, said Friday they believe their measures will pass with high levels of bipartisan support.
Gillibrand, who is co-sponsoring legislation in the Senate with GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, is being backed in the House by legislation led by Turner, a GOP member of the House Armed Services Committee. Gillibrand and Turner, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said they hope their legislation comes to a vote soon.
"We now have 61 bipartisan cosponsors (and) we probably have over 70 supporters of the bill, so we hope we can get a floor vote up or down so we can start the process of making this law," said Gillibrand. "This is something that we worked on for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, the scourge of sexual assault in the military hasn't changed."
The rates of prosecution and conviction continue to decline, she added, so "we are not moving in the right direction at all."
The Senate bill creates a system that more survivors can trust, as it calls for unbiased, trained military prosecutors who make decisions about whether a case should go to trial, said Gillibrand. Turner's bill also will call for similar measures.
"I believe it will end in more convictions and more serial rapists going to jail, which sends the message to change the climate so that these crimes are not tolerated," she said.
This will make a difference for both male and female survivors of sexual assault, said Gillibrand, because when they go through the chain of command when filing complaints, they see that their leaders are not taking care of the troops' well-being.
"They want this decision to be made by somebody who is highly trained, a lawyer, a criminal justice lawyer, someone who has the experience, and somebody who is not within that chain of command," said Gillibrand. "They don't know the perpetrator, they don't know the accuser, and we believe and they believe that if you create this professionalized system, people will have more faith in it."
Turner said he is involved in the fight because sexual assault is a "basic violation of someone's human rights."
"We all have stories from our constituents of people who have been victims of sexual assault," Turner said. "I think what's been important here is Sen. Gillibrand has worked diligently on a piece of legislation that tries to resolve the issue."
There are others coming to the table to pass legislation because Gillibrand listened to all parties involved, said Turner.
"It's a tremendous amount of work on Sen. Gillibrand's part and I am very pleased to be able to endorse and support her efforts," he added.
The measure has come under some opposition, including from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has said he doesn't like the legislation because it takes prosecution out of the chain of command.
"We've diligently pursued so many other reforms over the last eight years, over 200, in fact, and it's not dented the problem," said Gillibrand. "We still have 20 estimated sexual assaults a year."
She added that fewer cases are going to trial, or ending in conviction in recent years, so matters aren't getting better.
Further, said Gillibrand, commanders have other responsibilities rather than handling legal issues when they're not trained or positioned to do that.
"This change is something that service members support, that our commanders support, not only Gen. (Mark) Milley, but Adm. (Michael) Mullen has come out, Gen. (Austin) Miller has come out from the Marines, so we have this broad base of support at this point," said Gillibrand, adding that Ernst, her co-leader on the bill, is the only GOP combat veteran in the Senate.
"Not only has she been a commander, but she's a sexual assault survivor and she has a daughter about to graduate from West Point … we are all collaborating now to one place where we believe this one change will make a difference. And it's overwhelmingly supported by the U.S. Senate."