Keeping the commanders in play: Senator Ayotte pitches strategy for handling sexual assault in the military

Senator Kelly A. Ayotte (R-NH) spoke on the Senate floor Nov. 20, 2013 on an issue that has been plaguing the armed forces for years: sexual assault.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

When members of the Senate gathered to propose amendments to National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, Ayotte rose to speak on behalf of an amendment sponsored by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to reform the military justice system’s treatment of cases of sexual assault.

“There should be accountability at every level of our military to ensure that victims of sexual assault will be supported and that these cases will be handled and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Ayotte said.

Her and MaCaskill’s amendment would keep the commanders involved with how the cases are initially investigated and brought to trial. She argues that commanders help the justice process and that there were multiple incidents when a commander circumnavigated a Judge Advocate General lawyer’s recommendation and proceeded to take the case to trial, which ultimately resulted in a conviction.

However, her claim that there were 52 cases like this could not be substantiated. Furthermore,  according to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military there were 2,558 investigations opened and 1,627 were completed. Commanders had enough evidence for 1,124 cases to take action. They pursued sexual offense action in 880 cases and non-sexual offense action in 244 cases. They declined to take any action in 81 cases.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Senator Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) proposed amendment would remove commanders from the reporting process and open the cases independent of the chain of command. In a poll by Langer Research Associates, 6 in 10 Americans support this change of legal process.

Ayotte acknowledged the potential for flaws in the chain of command system and outlined how the amendment institutes a review of commanders to make sure that individuals are handling these cases appropriately with provisions to remove unfit commanders.

Ayotte supported her proposal by pointing to other nations like Great Britain, Canada, Israel and Australia that removed the commander and did not see any higher rates of reporting. Indeed this is the case as The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel Role of the Commander Subcommittee concluded that they could not find a significant relationship between removing the commander and increased reporting of sexual assault.

Both sides claim the goal of increased rates of reporting and conviction, but disagree on whether the commanders support or hinder this goal.



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