Lawmakers, Pentagon propose reforms for military sexual assault cases

Federal lawmakers are poised to take big steps to crack down on suspected sexual assaults in the military. After President Obama brought the issue to the political forefront, both Congress and the Pentagon are working on new initiatives to improve reporting and increase prosecutions.

According to Pentagon data, there were approximately 26,000 sexual assaults last year in all branches of the military. However, there were only 302 sexual assault prosecutions. Both initiatives aim to close this gap.

The Congressional effort is being spearheaded by Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. She is pursuing legislation that would remove military commanders from the decision-making process when sexual assaults are reported. Instead, sexual assault cases would be turned over to specially-trained military prosecutors.

Gillibrand's legislation is meant to address claims that sexual assault victims had been retaliated against after making reports to superiors. Supporters have said they are close to getting enough support to overcome a filibuster.

The Pentagon, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. It wants military commanders to keep their role in the sexual assault reporting process, but with greater oversight from senior officers. The Pentagon's proposed reforms also include a number of procedural changes, such as pretrial hearings run by judge advocate general officers and increased legal representation for victims of military sexual assault. Commanders would also have increased authority to transfer soldiers accused of sexual assault to new assignments where they would not be able to have contact with their alleged victims.

Defending military sex crime charges

So far, both of these proposals are still several steps away from becoming official military policy. However, it is important for any service member accused of sexual assault to understand that the renewed focus on the issue means that is crucial to take a serious approach to defending against the charges.

This is true even for senior officials. Anyone who thinks senior military leaders are exempt from prosecution for sexual assault needs only to look to the recent case of an Army Brigadier General who is facing court martial after being accused of sexual assault. The charges apparently emerged after a relationship with a junior officer went sour. While the Brigadier General asserts that all sexual contact was consensual, the junior officer claimed that he forced her to perform sexual acts on more than one occasion. The Brigadier General has been removed from his command pending resolution of the charges. If convicted, he could lose his career and be sentenced to military prison.

If you have been charged with military sexual assault, it is important to secure experienced legal representation as soon as possible. A military defense attorney can help you assert your rights and protect your career.