What’s The Best Way To Combat Military Rape?

Last Thursday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to reform military sexual assault policies failed to overcome a filibuster against stiff opposition from Senator Claire McCaskill, whose alternative bill passed cloture 100-0. Amy Davidson explains the shortcomings of Gillibrand’s effort to remove rape investigations from the chain of command:

McCaskill, who has prosecuted sexual-assault cases herself, has argued that, as well-meaning as it sounds, pulling out sexual assault in this way would result in fewer prosecutions. Part of the reasoning is technical and structural: while commanders are motivated by discipline and order (as well as, one hopes, respect for the law and concern for and loyalty to all their troops), prosecutors are often looking for cases that they can win. If it is left up to the prosecutors alone, they might have a more jaundiced view of how a jury would hear a witness than does a commander—again, no longer the unit commander, and no longer alone.

And part has to do with the changing culture of the military: McCaskill and others have fought hard to make commanders more responsible for addressing the crisis of sexual assault in their ranks, not less so.

Marcotte’s verdict: both bills were good, but not great:

While both bills have a lot to offer victims, including more direct assistance and more assurance that their charges will be taken seriously, in the end it seems that there just may not be a perfect policy solution to the problem of sexual assault in the military.

As with the civilian world, the obstacles to getting justice for victims are more about culture than about the structure of the justice system: reflexive victim-blaming, the difficulties in distinguishing rape from consensual sex when there are no outside witnesses, and the myth that false rape accusations are more common than they are. Regardless of their differences, both McCaskill and Gillibrand have done a great service in keeping this debate in the public eye, which will go a long way toward changing the culture so that victims of sexual assault are taken more seriously by everyone.


Just as the chain of command provision failed in the Senate, news broke that the top Army prosecutor for sex assault cases had been suspended after a lawyer who worked for him alleged that he had tried to grope her at a military legal conference.

Ugh. To read more on the subject, check out the long Dish thread on military rape from last year.