WASHINGTON — It is a trend that no one likes to see when it comes to the military: an increase in sexual assaults.
The Associated Press reports assault allegations were up 1% in 2020.
While exact figures aren't known yet, there were 7,800 reported assaults in 2019. In 2018, there were 6,000 reports.
For years, Congress has discussed changes to how the military handles assault allegations. Under current policy, commanding officers of the accused often decide if an allegation warrants a trial.
The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act would change that so independent military prosecutors decide whether a sexual assault case warrants an investigation.
The legislation is not new, but for the first time it appears to have the votes needed to pass. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have announced they have at least 61 senators now on board.
That's significant because that means they can overcome any legislative filibuster.
Impact on women
For Amy March, the news is welcomed.
March's husband is an active duty officer with the Air Force. March says one of her husband's commanding officers assaulted her while they were living at Travis Air Force Base in California.
"He was supposed to be my husband’s mentor," March said.
When she reported the assault, she says the commanding officer of the man she accused decided the allegations did not warrant a court-martial.
"None of these commanders have the experience or the knowledge that a private prosecutor would have," March said.
For March, the measure in Washington means everything. The man she alleges assaulted her was never charged.
"It provides me hope. Hopefully this incident will prevent future incidents such as mine," March said.
Not everyone is on board
While the bill appears poised to become law, not everyone is on board.
Thomas Spoehr, a retired Lt. Colonel, recently wrote for the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation “Congress Should Avoid Changes That Would Erode the Military Justice System.”
The retired lieutenant colonel arguing commanding officers should always be in charge of discipline.