Obama Signs Bill in Crackdown on Military Sexual Assault

Critics looking to overhaul the way the military deals with sexual assault got an end of the year move in the right direction. The day after Christmas, President Obama signed a defense bill that caps a yearlong push to crack down on sexual assault in the military.

Under the new law,  anyone who commits sexual assault will face dishonorable discharge, retaliation against the victim with be punished and legal assistance will be provided to the victims. Also, convictions for sexual assault will no longer be allowed to be overturned by military commanders. 

Although the bill is a move in the right direction, it's not as drastic as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act. Gillibrand's proposal called for independent authorities to oversee and prosecute assault claims, the new bill still grants victims’ commanders the power to hear assault claims and administer punishment.

Reports of military sexual assault had risen by 46 percent in the last year, with 3,553 reports of assaults from October 2012 through June 2013. According to the Department of Defense, roughly 86 percent of assaults go unreported, as victims fear punishment — including job termination — for speaking out.

In March, Gillibrand (D-NY) led a hearing, hosted by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Personnel, to investigate the problem. During the hearing, victims shared their tragic accounts, and testimony was heard from high-ranking law experts in the armed forces.

Photo: Fotolia