A Bill | Military Sex Crimes

Senate Bill 967 The Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013

Heidi Przybyla

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, flanked by attorneys, testify at a June 4 hearing

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Essentials

1. This short piece of legislation makes sweeping changes to the way the armed forces handles sexual assaults. Under military laws that date back 200 years, the commanders of an alleged victim decide whether to press charges in a military court; choose a jury to hear the case; and later have the authority to overturn sentences. The bill would put the decision to prosecute into the hands of independent military lawyers and strip commanders of the power to set aside guilty verdicts.

2. The measure is part of a push to overhaul military laws amid reports that attacks have surged and officers are overturning verdicts. Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) want to make it a crime for basic-training instructors to have sexual contact with their recruits and force the military to assign attorneys for victims; only defendants are guaranteed a military lawyer now. Under a bill sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), convicted sex offenders couldn’t enlist.

3. Military brass argue that changes to the chain of command would undercut officers’ overall ability to lead — a tactic they’ve used to blunt past efforts at reform. This time may be different: There’s bipartisan backing for the bill and an identical one introduced in the House. Another factor: S. 967 awaits a vote in the Senate’s armed services committee, which has a record seven women serving on it, including the bill’s author.

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