Broken Senate Delays Military Sexual Assault Reform

Senate gridlock and dysfunction has reared its ugly head again -- and this time it's survivors of military sexual assault who will pay the price.
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Senate gridlock and dysfunction has reared its ugly head again -- and this time it's survivors of military sexual assault who will pay the price.

There is an unclear path forward for the critical Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA), legislation that would support survivors of military sexual assault and strengthen our military. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is stalled in the U.S. Senate. After parliamentary tricks, the Senate left for its Thanksgiving vacation Thursday night after Senate leaders failed to reach an agreement to move forward with the defense bill, a vehicle for the MJIA.

So far, 53 senators have signed on to support the Military Justice Improvement Act. It's a group of Senators that rarely join together. How often do you see Senators Rand Paul and Al Franken supporting the same bill? Or Senators Ted Cruz and Senator Dick Durbin? The historic nature of this bi-partisan coalition underscores the growing momentum for the change we need in the military justice system.

Two things may happen now to this bill. Senate leaders can come back from their Thanksgiving break and come to an agreement to allow the NDAA to move forward. This could include a vote on the Military Justice Improvement Act. If the NDAA continues to stall or Senators don't allow a vote on the MJIA, bill sponsor Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will ask for a separate vote on MJIA. We'll have to stay tuned until after Senators return from an extensive Thanksgiving break to find out what will happen on the Senate floor.

But one thing is certain: we still need the Military Justice Improvement Act. And Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will continue to fight for its passage. Now, we have more time to get the last votes necessary to get this critical bill passed.

Last year, there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military, crimes ranging from sexual harassment to rape. Yet just over 3,500 of these crimes were reported, allowing countless perpetrators of sexual violence run free to commit these crimes again. When asked why, fifty percent of survivors of sexual assault who did not report said that they didn't believe that anything would be done with their case. It is clear that the status quo is unacceptable and we need the MJIA for real, meaningful change.

IAVA has worked with survivors of military sexual assault -- both men and women -- whose military failed them. Now their government is failing them too. As one survivor of sexual assault has said, "we can take down Osama bin Laden, we sure can down military sexual trauma."

Seven votes can make a huge difference for survivors and the military as a whole.

But to get to the necessary 60 votes, we still need help. We need to work the phones and email. We need the help of veterans and their supporters. We need senators to understand why women and men are counting on them to do the right thing. We need the president to step up during this week of Thanksgiving and come out in support of this bill.

This fight to improve the military justice system and strengthen our national security will only succeed if we continue to make our voices heard. Below is the list of senators yet to support the Military Justice Improvement Act -- they need to hear why they should sign on. And if they won't support this critical bill, they need to tell their daughters and sons why not.

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Max Baucus (D-MT)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Richard Burr (R-NC)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Deb Fischer (R-NE)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Lindsay Graham (R-SC)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
John Hoeven (R-ND)
James Inhofe (R-OK)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Angus King (I-ME)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
Rob Portman (R-OH)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
James Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Tim Scott (R-SC)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
John Thune (R-SD)
Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Mike Warner (D-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Roger Wicker (R-MS)

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