The Military Justice Improvement Act was introduced on May 16th by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Of the six bills that have been introduced, this is the one that has gotten the most attention, likely because it dismantles the policies that allow the military’s rape culture to thrive.
“Under the legislation, discretion on whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other crimes punishable by more than a year in prison would be given to military prosecutors instead of the commanding officers.”
The bill also bans convening authorities from overturning a conviction or changing a conviction to a lesser offense. Taking the power away from the chain of command, giving it to legal professionals, and keeping it within the authority of military courts will fundamentally change the way that sexual assault cases are reported and prosecuted. This type of system has a much higher chance of being trusted and utilized by survivors.
Tamron Hall, host of News Nation on MSNBC, spoke with Jennifer Norris, a military rape survivor who was part of Senator Gillibrand’s press announcement on her new bill. She asked Norris about the confidence that women have in receiving justice under current policies.
“Women lost the confidence a long, long time ago. Hence the reason that today’s introduction of Senator Gillibrand’s bill was just so touching to me. It’s the first piece of legislation that actually has real substance to it to give us that confidence back.”
The kind of changes this bill would enact is being criticized by some who believe that making structural changes will cause more harm than good. The critics don’t seem to understand that wanting to hold on to this structure is the basis of the problem to begin with. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, has said he is “adamantly opposed” to the bill and thinks “it will do a lot of damage.”
“For 200 years, military commanders have been the court martial authority.”
“And sexual assaults are not on the rise because the military justice system lets people go. It’s on the rise because of the culture that’s created in the military.”
What the Senator doesn’t realize is that the culture of the military is what allows the military justice system to “let people go.” That’s how rape culture works. It’s structural. And unless and until you change that structure, the problem will remain the same.
Co-Sponsors: 17 (13D, 4R)
Status: In Committee (Senate Armed Services)
Estimated chance of being enacted: 2%
More information on the Military Justice Improvement Act can be found here.