It is rare indeed when the U. S. Senate approves legislation by a 97-0 vote. It happened Monday when the McCaskill-Ayotte-Fischer bill was approved. The legislation is a measure to curb sex crimes in the military and to bring justice to victims in judicial proceedings.
This bill to reform the justice system in the military as to sexual assault crimes came after aggressive action by three female senators, with Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill in the forefront. Perhaps the most significant provision of the Victims Protection Act is that the “good soldier” defense for service members accused of assault would be banned under most circumstances. Also, alleged victims would be allowed formal input in whether their case is tried in military or civilian court.
Other provisions include allowing sexual assault survivors to challenge their discharge or separation from service; strengthening the role of the prosecutor in advising commanders on going to court-martial; boosting accountability of commanders for addressing sexual assault and setting appropriate command climate; and extending protections to the military service academies.
The legislation also would strip commanders of the authority to overturn jury convictions, which has happened. There are many other provisions in the bill which are aimed at curbing abuses that have occurred.
The bill still needs House approval. It may stand alone or it may be incorporated into the defense policy bill that will be acted on this spring.
Sexual assault has been a major problem in the military and may continue to be so as more women are assuming roles that put them into positions once held only by men. This does not mean women are to blame. It means that the environment now is such that sexual abuse is more likely to occur. The bill, if finally enacted, should create a judicial environment that more likely will result in justice to victims. It’s overdue!