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Unlikely allies back effort to stop military sexual assaults

Unlikely allies back effort to stop military sexual assaults
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POSTED: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 10:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 10:04am

An effort to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command will receive a bipartisan boost Tuesday as conservative Republicans join the bill's main backer, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, to voice their support for the measure.

The proposed law comes after a spike in sexual assault cases in the armed forces, which has prompted President Barack Obama and top military brass to vow change.

A report Monday from a government watchdog found that in many cases the military did not properly investigate sexual assault claims.

The bill is an extension of Gillibrand's efforts in the Senate Armed Services Committee to advance legislation requiring decisions about sexual assault cases to be made by independent military prosecutors.

The measure faced opposition from senior military leaders, who argued it would harm commanders' ability to lead effectively.

It also met resistance from the Armed Services Committee's Democratic Chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, who replaced Gillibrand's provision with a measure that would require review of prosecution decisions by more senior military leaders.

Levin's proposal would also make it a crime to retaliate against those who report an assault.

After Gillibrand's measure stalled in committee, the New York Democrat has been working to gain support for the measure in the full Senate.

If she garners 51 co-sponsors for the provision, it would force a debate in the upper chamber.

Two prominent tea party-backed senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, have thrown their weight behind the measure.

Cruz, an Armed Services Committee member, spoke out in support of Gillibrand's proposal at a hearing last month.

"I think she made a powerful and effective argument that the lack of reporting is driven by a fear of not having an impartial third party outside the chain of command in which to report a sexual assault," Cruz said on June 12. "And I think that argument was buttressed by her pointing to our allies that have implemented similar policies and seen significant increases in the reporting that has occurred when there is an impartial actor to lodge that report."

At an event on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Paul will join conservative Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California in publicly backing Gillibrand's amendment.

The senators' efforts come amid mounting outrage over sexual abuse cases in the armed forces.

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense released figures estimating 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2012, a 35% jump from 2010.

Those cases ranged from groping to rape.

The vast majority of those incidents went unreported as crimes, the study showed.

On Monday, a report from the Pentagon's inspector general found that most investigations of sexual assault allegations in the military in 2012 met requirements.

However, 11% of those investigations -- or 56 cases last year - had serious problems, including evidence not being collected and witness interviews not being completed.

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