Legislative update


On 4 June 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a hearing with concerns over the issue of sexual assault in the military along with an inquiry as to the steps that the military has initiated and several bills that have been introduced in the Senate to combat sexual assault. Notable witnesses included Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), and General James F. Amos, Commandant, United States Marine Corps (USMC). SASC Chairman, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) opened by recognizing that more than 3,000 cases of sexual assault were reported across the services in 2012 and explained that a change of culture will be needed throughout the military in order to successfully reduce the occurrence of sexual misconduct. SASC Ranking Member, Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK) agreed that a change in culture will be necessary to address the issue but expressed his opposition to any legislation that would remove unit commanders from the role of administering justice within their commands.


In his opening statement to the Committee, General Dempsey acknowledged that the military must do more to protect victims of sexual assault and stated that ninety programs and initiatives are being implemented to advance change. Admiral Greenert testified that a Navy pilot program implemented at the training facility at Great Lakes, which educated sailors on sexual misconduct, had yielded positive results and programs have been established at other Navy facilities to reduce the occurrence of sexual assault, however he recognized that changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) may be necessary to fully address the problem.  Admiral Greenert went on to state that, “By virtue of experience, skill and training, our commanders are the best assessors of their people and are the key to sustaining the readiness of their unit and… Preventing and responding to sexual assault is not just a legal issue, it is a leadership issue. The performance, safety and climate of a unit begin and end with the commander.” General Amos explained that eradicating sexual assault is a top priority of the Marine Corps but explained that change and accountability needs to begin with the commanders who must affect a change in the culture of their respective units.


As question and answering commenced during the hearing, Chairman Levin expressed doubt that instances of sexual misconduct would be reported in cases where personnel lacked confidence in their commanders and asked if servicemembers are notified that they can report cases to authorities other than their commanders. General Amos replied that personnel were informed that there are various avenues they can use to report instances of sexual misconduct including a victim advocate group which consists of the servicemember’s peers.  Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) asked if the services performed criminal investigations during the recruitment process prior to an individual entering service. Admiral Greenert explained that criminal investigations are conducted and noted that recruiting prospects with histories of sexual misconduct are prevented from joining the service but acknowledged that the investigations are not 100% effective. Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) asked if there are any processes that exist that can better address sexual assault within the commands. Admiral Greenert noted that surveys are conducted following changes of command which ask about the climate of the command with attention paid to sexual assault and harassment and that any claims of sexual misconduct revealed in the survey are sent up the chain of command to be adjudicated.  Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) sat silently as his SASC colleagues questioned one military leader after another about what they were doing to address the problem of sexual assault in the military, and then spoke out during his turn saying that the responses of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were, “Stunningly bad.” In particular, Senator Blunt criticized Admiral Greenert for displaying scant knowledge of how military allies of the United States had dealt with sexual assault in their ranks.