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GUEST COLUMN: Protecting sex assault victims in the military

Corey Gardner Published: April 12, 2014 0

In the coming weeks and months, Congress will begin debating this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It's a comprehensive piece of legislation that authorizes military and defense programs for the coming year and has passed every year for the past 52 years. Without this legislation, our troops would lose combat pay, and life-saving military research and improved-weapons acquisitions would immediately come to a halt. Furthermore, the Department of Defense would be unable to chart a certain course forward for the American military.

The NDAA also provides Congress with an annual opportunity to re-examine the military justice system. Recently, several high-profile military sexual assault cases have increased public and congressional awareness of how these cases are prosecuted within the military. It's a problem that's hurting the greatest military on Earth. We must ensure that the men and women of our armed forces have access to a strong and objective judicial process that provides justice to victims of sex crimes.

Last year's NDAA made some important reforms and improvements to the manner in which military sexual assault cases are handled within the military ranks. For instance, commanders no longer have the authority to unilaterally overturn court martial decisions, although they maintain their role in the chain of command as sexual assault cases are prosecuted.

While these reforms were significant, sexual assault continues to plague our military.

Without additional reforms, sexual assault threatens to disrupt cohesion, harm readiness, and reduce our ability to recruit the best and brightest soldiers that make up our all-volunteer forces. That is why Congress must act to further protect the victims of sexual assault in the military.

This week, I announced my support for the inclusion of text in the NDAA to address these crimes in a way that respects military leadership but brings real reform to a system that is currently failing sexual assault victims.

This bipartisan text, originally proposed by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, removes the decision to prosecute claims of sexual assault and other major military crimes from the military's chain of command.

This would ensure that victims of sexual assault can come forward with the knowledge that he or she will receive a fair judicial process.

Reforming the military's judicial process is not something that I take lightly.

Our generals and commanders do an extraordinary job of recruiting and maintaining the finest forces in the world. But the frequency of sexual assault is unacceptable in the military, and congressional (lower case "c" on congressional) action has become necessary to bring offenders to justice and prevent future assaults. I believe these measures represent the right balance of respect for military tradition and leadership while ensuring victims of sexual assault receive justice.

On every corner of the globe, our servicemen and women make great sacrifices and face countless challenges to keep our nation safe and secure. They risk their lives protecting us, and now it is our turn to protect them from a system that does not work.

I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to support Sen. Gillibrand's efforts to reform the judicial process for sexual assault cases.

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Cory Scott Gardner is the U.S. representative for Colorado's 4th Congressional District.

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