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Begich Joins Bi-partisan Group to Ensure Justice for Victims of Military Sexual Assault

U.S. Senator Mark Begich today co-sponsored legislation to strengthen prosecution of sexual assault crimes in the military. Specifically, the bill takes away the authority of commanders to overturn or lessen court-martial verdicts in sexual assault cases, requires justification for changes in court-martial sentences by a commander, and removes the military chain-of-command from determining whether sexual assault cases are prosecuted. 

“Both in Alaska and nationally, the current situation is completely unacceptable,” Begich said. “We need to move quickly to fix it and make sure our military men and women are protected.”

The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates that while 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2012, only 3,374 cases were reported.  Of those cases, only 238 resulted in conviction.

“Members of our military—male or female—deserve an environment that holds criminals accountable and promotes their safety and well-being,” said Begich. “The current military system to prosecute sexual assaults is, at best, a subjective, insensitive process that provides little support for victims and a lot of leeway for criminals. This new legislation helps bring more impartiality to the system, ensures justice for victims and restores trust in our nation’s military as an institution.”

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Begich at a press conference on Capitol Hill on sexual assault in the military

Begich is a strong supporter of legislation to prevent sexual assault and to help victims of sexual assault—especially in the military.  He recently co-sponsored S. 294, The Ruth Moore Act of 2013, which would make disability benefits for women veterans available if they are suffering from PTSD or depression following a military-related sexual assault. Begich is also a co-sponsor of the Defense STRONG Act, which would strengthen protections for military assault victims to ensure crimes are reported without fear of retribution.  Begich sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Friday urging the DOD to address the problem of sexual assault in the military by enacting minimum sentences for sexual assault crimes. 

The primary author of today’s bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act, is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).  Victims of sexual assault in the military and organizations who assist victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) were on hand for the Senate announcement of this new comprehensive bipartisan and bicameral legislation.   Begich was joined at a press conference by Sens. Gillibrand, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Representatives Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

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