A measure to bring in independent prosecutors to decide which sexual assault cases in the military go to trial was blocked late Tuesday night after Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) sided with military officials seeking to keep prosecution of sexual assault within the chain of command.
The measure to remove sexual assault prosecution from the chain of command -- introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and co-sponsored by 27 others, including four Republicans -- was intended to encourage service members to report crimes without fear of retaliation from superiors, a major barrier to coming forward. After stripping the measure from the defense spending bill, Levin announced he intended to replace it with a provision requiring senior military officers to review decisions when commanders decline to prosecute a case.
“They basically embrace the status quo here,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) told the New York Times. “It’s outrageous.”
Aides for Gillibrand told NBC News that the move was "a real setback," though Gillibrand may reintroduce the measure on the Senate floor this summer.
Explaining why prosecuting sexual assault cases should be removed from the chain of command at a Senate hearing last week, Gillibrand said: "Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force, not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is, not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape."
A Pentagon report released earlier this year found that an estimated 26,000 assaults took place in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2011.