Who Will Stand With Military Sexual Assault Survivors When It Counts This Week?

Survivors have shown tremendous courage in telling their stories. Now it's time for the Senate to show courage and pass the Military Justice Improvement Act.
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Serving in the U.S. military requires courage. Coming forward to describe surviving military sexual assault takes even more.

That is what thousands of survivors like those shown in the Academy Award-nominated film, The Invisible War have done. And for every survivor who is able to come forward, thousands are suffering in silence.

When the Department of Defense reported that there were an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012, it was a massive wake-up call. It showed our military is being weakened from the inside. And this week, the issue has finally reached a tipping point. After 20 years of broken promises to end sexual assault in the military, one vote will determine whether or not Congress has the courage to strengthen the military justice system.

The numbers only show the partial scope of the problem, not the day-to-day impact of military sexual assault. Too often, survivors tell of coming forward to bravely report a sexual assault case only to be re-victimized by their leaders or their units. Indeed, of the active-duty women who reported a case of sexual assault, 62 percent experienced some form of retaliation. Too many survivors see their careers cut short by military sexual trauma. These women (and men) raised their hand to serve, and were failed by a system that didn't do enough to support them.

While this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes some much-needed reforms to strength prevention efforts and new initiatives to support victims of sexual assault, it does not do enough to address the military justice system. Survivors have shown tremendous courage in telling their stories. Now it's time for the Senate to show courage and pass the Military Justice Improvement Act.

The Military Justice Improvement Act, sponsored by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, would give experienced military prosecutors the authority to determine whether a case involving a serious crime should go to a court martial. This single decision will result in a more impartial justice system and assure both victims and the accused that their cases will get fair consideration based solely on the evidence of the case.

Simply put, military justice should be based on the law alone. And, experienced lawyers are best positioned to understand all the evidence and make a decision based on the facts.

Momentum is building for the Military Justice Improvement Act. In mid-October, the Department of Defense's own Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS), the panel established over 60 years ago to advise the Secretary on issues impacting women in the military, voted to support the bill's proposal. Military and veterans organizations are also behind it, including our group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and Service Women Action Network (SWAN). Leaders in the women's movement are behind the change as well, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), and the YWCA Inc, It's an incredibly diverse coalition of support that reflects the importance of this bill.

Currently, 53 senators have publicly shown their support for the Military Justice Improvement Act, and even more are strongly considering supporting the amendment on the floor. It's a diverse, surprisingly bi-partisan list. Conservative Rand Paul and liberal Al Franken are behind the same bill. Along with Ted Cruz AND Dianne Feinstein. It's hard to remember seeing that kind of unity recently behind anything that didn't involved naming a Post Office.

But this week is the vote. And it will be close. 60 votes will be needed to finally make the change our veterans, and national security deserve. And as the 2014 election looms, make no mistake that veteran voters -- and especially people who care about women's issues -- will be watching. This is the kind of vote that could make a huge difference not only in the lives of survivors, but also in the political futures of at least a few members of the Senate.

And we're doing something that doesn't happen often enough in Washington, we're naming names. Here is the list of every member who has stood up to support MJIA as of 6:15PM on Wednesday, November 20:

•Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
•Mark Begich (D-AK)
•Michael Bennet (D-CO)
•Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
•Cory Booker (D-NJ)
•Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
•Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
•Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
•Ben Cardin (D-MD)
•Tom Carper (D-DE)
•Robert Casey (D-PA)
•Susan Collins (R-ME)
•Chris Coons (D-DE)
•Ted Cruz (R-TX)
•Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
•Dick Durbin (D-IL)
•Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
•Al Franken (D-MN)
•Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
•Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
•Kay Hagan (D-NC)
•Tom Harkin (D-IA)
•Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
•Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
•Dean Heller (R-NV)
•Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
•Mike Johanns (R-NE)
•Tim Johnson (D-SD)
•Mark Kirk (R-IL)
•Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
•Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
•Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
•Ed Markey (D-MA)
•Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
•Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
•Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
•Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
•Chris Murphy (D-CT)
•Patty Murray (D-WA)
•Rand Paul (R-KY)
•Mark Pryor (D-AR)
•Harry Reid (D-NV)
•Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
•Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
•Brian Schatz (D-HI)
•Charles Schumer (D-NY)
•Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
•Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
•Mark Udall (D-CO)
•Tom Udall (D-NM)
•David Vitter (R-LA)
•Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
•Ron Wyden (D-OR)

But we've yet to hear statements of support from the following Senators:

•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)

All it will take is a few more votes to get to 60. Thousands of military sexual assault survivors have shown tremendous courage in the last few years pushing this issue forward. Now, it's time for every member of the Senate to show some courage.

Urge your senator to vote yes on the Military Justice Improvement Act by calling 1-888-659-8549. Together, we can strengthen the military justice system, protect survivors, #PassMJIA and create a stronger military.

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