The story of Airman Jane Neubauer, who was allegedly raped and then hung out to dry by the Air Force, is one of many that show why Congress must reform the way sexual assault cases are handled by the military. Two leading advocates for military-sexual assault reform reacted to Neubauer’s story and discussed the Senate vote expected this week on the issue.
Two competing bills, from senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand, are scheduled for “side-by-side votes that will allow either or both measures to proceed if they muster the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster.”
In response to Neubauer’s story, Gillibrand spokesperson Glen Caplin provided this statement:
"This survivor's story raises issues we have heard in other cases, for example, another special victim counsel has told us they can't get information, and even recommend to survivors they not report. We have also heard about the risks of talking to mental health counselors because the conversations are inappropriately being used as evidence in courts martial. After more than 20 years of pledges of zero tolerance for sexual assault, it is clear that trust in the system has been irrevocably broken. Senator Gillibrand believes it is Congress' obligation to restore this trust throughout the system by creating a military justice system that is free of the inherent bias and conflicts of interest."
Gillibrand has expressed confidence that when the time comes she will have the 60 votes she needs, but her proposals have put her at odds with both military officials and fellow lawmakers.
McCaskill, whose competing reform bill is also up for a vote, has objected to Gillibrand’s efforts to remove the decision to prosecute military sexual assault cases from commanders and place them into the hands of independent military lawyers.
The Daily Beast spoke with Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sexual assault victims that has made getting new legislation passed one of its priorities.
Protect President Nancy Parrish supports Gillibrand's measure and talked about why McCaskill’s won’t work.
“I was compelled - this was a human rights issue at our doorstep and as Americans we had to do something about it,” Parrish said. “In the immediate term we’re doing all we can to work with Senator Gillibrand to get the act passed into law to ensure that professional trained military prosecutors, rather than the accused’s commanders, determines whether a case should be prosecuted. So that’s our core mission at the moment.”
Parrish said the McCaskill bill is “backed by and written with the support of the Pentagon,” adding that it’s “the status quo.”
Parrish called Neubauer’s case a “stark but horrendous example of an arbitrary and chaotic justice system where there is little to no transparency or accountability of those who abuse their authority. And where the victim is too often re-victimized by the very individuals who are supposed to protect her.”
“There have been enough recent stories of questionable OSI conduct in cases such as these that the DoD inspector general should conduct a thorough investigation.”