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Gillibrand wants crack down on military sexual assaults

Ryan Delaney
WRVO file photo

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is continuing her fight to crack down on sexual assaults in the military in 2014.

The junior senator from New York has been a vocal critic of the way the military deals with sexual assault cases. She points to statistics that showed instances of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012 went up by 7,000 compared to two years earlier.

Gillibrand retold stories of sexual abuse victims as she proposed legislation last year to take military commanders out of the loop when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases. It failed to pass the Senate as an add-on to the yearly National Defense Authorization Act in December, but she expects another vote on it in the new year.

"My estimate is it will be the first week in February, which is fine," Gillibrand said. "I still need a few more votes, so I’m going to use the time to talk to my colleagues, make sure they’ve spoken to survivors from their states, spoken to the many generals and veterans organizations who’ve come out in support of this bill, so they really know.”

She says a new survey of sexual assault in military academies adds fodder to her proposal to take prosecution of sexual assault victims in the military out of the hands of military commanders.  

"It’s just another example of the evidence of how severe it is, and how far we have to go and that this oversight and accountability is very much necessary,” Gillibrand said.

A recent report shows a decrease in the number of sexual assaults in two of three U.S. military academies, including West Point. But Gillibrand says it’s hard to draw any conclusions from this survey, noting a finding in the stats that there were more reports termed restricted, which means action can’t be taken. She says that suggests victims' fear of coming forward.

She also says the report ultimately is another example of the problems of reporting sexual abuse in the military, and that it's unclear if the report shows the number of cases dropping, or whether fewer victims were reporting assaults.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.