McSally to introduce military sexual assault reform bill

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyOvernight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat Poll: McSally, Kelly tied in Arizona Trump, Senate GOP discuss effort to overhaul legal immigration MORE (R-Ariz.) said on Tuesday that she will introduce legislation to address how the military handles sexual assault claims, including making sexual harassment a stand-alone offense under the military’s criminal justice system. 

 

McSally, a member of the Armed Services Committee who is up for reelection in 2020, is expected to introduce the proposal as soon as Wednesday with the goal of getting most, if not all, of it included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a defense policy bill that passes every year. 

 

“Our intent is to include as much as possible in the mark up of the defense bill next week,” McSally told reporters at a lunch hosted by Winning for Women, an outside group aimed at supporting female GOP candidates. “We’ve had very positive conservations so far.” 

 

McSally’s legislation, according to a one-page summary, focuses on changes in four categories: prevention and training, victim support, investigation and prosecution. 

 

“What we’re trying to do is team up the JAGs [judge advocate generals] and the investigators early on in the process. …It needs to not be informal,” McSally told an all-female group of reporters. 

 

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She said that her focus as she put together a proposal was on what is “the best possible investigation, with the best possible support to the victim, with the due process that the accused deserves as well?” 

 

“The theme for me … was timeliness is a real challenge of the time it takes for these investigations and the whole judicial process to go on,” she said, recounting her conversations with military officials in Arizona. “There’s nothing good that happens if these linger for long periods of time.” 

 

The legislation comes as the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold its closed-door markup of the NDAA next week. McSally’s proposal could be included in the initial draft from Sen. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief | House panel advances bill to block military funds for border wall | Trump defends Bolton despite differences Trump nominates Shanahan as Pentagon chief Iran, Venezuela puts spotlight on Trump adviser John Bolton MORE (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, or could be offered as an amendment. 

 

McSally’s efforts to make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime would line up with plans from the Pentagon. 

 

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanOvernight Defense: Pentagon dipping into missile, spy plane funds for border wall | Pompeo briefs European allies on Iran | Preps for meeting with Putin | B-52s conduct first mission to deter Iran | Lawmakers set for clash on nuke policy Pentagon’s .5B wall transfer to include pulls from intercontinental missile, spy plane upgrades B-52s conduct first mission of counter-Iran deployment MORE said earlier this month that sexual harassment would be made a criminal offense at the recommendation of the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force, which was formed at McSally’s request. 

 

Sexual assaults in the military increased nearly 38 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to Pentagon data released earlier this month and obtained by USA Today. 

 

McSally disclosed earlier this year that she herself is a survivor of sexual assault committed by a superior officer while she served in the Air Force. 

 

“That was not an easy decision, but I believe it was the right thing to do at the time so that I could help lead on this issue and people could maybe better understand where I was coming from,” McSally recounted in Arizona in March.

 

McSally added on Tuesday that the level of discussion about sexual assault in the military had improved. 

 

“When I went off to basic training … it wasn’t something that was openly discussed,” McSally said, “even though this scourge was happening in our society and our military.” 

McSally’s proposal stops short of backing an effort by Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandMSNBC to host Harris town hall this month Biden surges in digital spending on Facebook, Google Bill Nye tees off on climate change skeptics: ‘The planet is on f—ing fire!’ MORE (D-N.Y.) that would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether or not to prosecute sexual assault cases. 

 

McSally said on Tuesday that she “strongly” disagrees with the effort, arguing that commanders are responsible for their unit. 

 

“If you want to fix it ultimately commanders need to own it, they need to continue to own it. They need to be more prepared, more accountable, more equipped but they still need to own it,” she said. “Stripping that away from them … it’s going to take our eye off the ball.” 

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