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U.S. Military Faces Crisis Over Sexual Assaults, Gillibrand Says

The U.S. military is facing a “crisis” over cases of sexual assault, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said as she pushed her plan to remove sex-assault cases from the chain of command and turn them over to independent military prosecutors.

“What we have here is a crisis,” Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “What the victims tell us across the board is that they’re afraid to report because of retaliation” or that they’ll be marginalized or blamed, she said.

The military is facing criticism over its handling of sexual assaults. Debate has centered increasingly on whether commanding officers should continue to decide whether to act on allegations of sexual harassment and assault within their units. A Defense Department survey estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred last year, compared with 2,949 victims identified in criminal reports.

The U.S. Army on June 7 said that it suspended Major General Michael T. Harrison, the commanding general of its forces in Japan, over allegations that he failed to report or properly investigate an allegation of sexual assault.

“Until you have transparency, accountability and objectivity, where the decision maker of whether you’re going to trial or not, is an objective prosecutor -- not a commander -- you’re not going to have the kind of reporting and, frankly, justice that we need in the system,” she said.

The military’s top commanders pledged during a June 4 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to take greater steps to prevent such cases. They also said the cases should remain within the chain of command.

“No problem gets solved in the military without the chain of command, and I don’t want to let the chain of command off the hook,” Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican and a member of the congressional panel, said on the CBS show.

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