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Ernst, Gillibrand hail bipartisan deal to address military sexual assault

▶ Watch Video: Gillibrand and Ernst hail bipartisan support for addressing sexual assault in the military

Washington — The push to overhaul how the military handles sexual assault cases is moving closer to becoming law thanks in large part to the collaborative effort of New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst. 

On Sunday, Ernst told “Face the Nation” that her work with Gillibrand on the issue over many years can serve as a “template” for reaching bipartisans agreements in other areas.

“We want Americans to see that bipartisanship is alive and well,” Ernst said. “It takes friendships. It takes a lot of discussions and certainly a partnership and finding compromise through that collaboration. This is what the rest of the Congress should be doing at a time like this too.”

Last month, Gillibrand introduced legislation in the Senate that would move prosecutorial decisions for serious crimes out of the chain of command and into the hands of independent military prosecutors. Ernst, Gillibrand and Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said Friday that they had secured enough co-sponsors on the bill to overcome a filibuster.

The Department of Defense has maintained that military leaders need to be in charge of prosecuting sexual assault cases in order to maintain control of their units, but Gillibrand said Sunday that “no measure” has shown that things have gotten better.

“Because of their lack of ability to get this done, the rate of sexual assault continues to climb. But the rate of cases going to trial and the rate of cases ending in conviction is going down,” Gillibrand, who has advocated to make these changes since 2013, told “Face the Nation.”

The New York Democrat said requiring cases to be handled by an “unbiased military prosecutor” will change the types of cases that are brought forward for prosecution, and give survivors confidence that their cases are being handled by someone without “skin in the game.”

“We believe that a trained military prosecutor has the experience and know how to do this in an unbiased way,” Gillibrand said. “That will allow the survivor community to come forward more often.”

Recalling her time as a commander in the National Guard, Ernst said “there needs to be some oversight” when it comes to combating and preventing sexual assault in the armed forces. Ernst pointed to a blistering report about a pattern of sexual assault and harassment at Fort Hood, where Army soldier Vanessa Guillen was murdered in 2020.

“The horrible behavior, that bad command environment,” Ernst said. “It has really been obvious to me that we need to make a very different change.”

Ernst stressed that a major focus of the legislation deals with prevention.

“We know it’s necessary to focus on that, because by the time we have a perpetrator and a survivor, then we know we’ve failed.”

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