05.16.1311:59 AM ET

Can Laws Stop Military Sexual Abuse?

Proposals are in the works, but support is fractured.

There’s broad agreement in Washington that the problem of sexual assault in the military has become a crisis but little consensus about how to handle it. The Pentagon finding that there were an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults in the military last year has spurred several new proposals on Capitol Hill, and yet it’s unclear whether any of them have the necessary support to become law. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has proposed legislation to give military prosecutors rather than commanders the power to determine which cases to pursue, which she says could alleviate victims’ fears of retaliation. But some former prosecutors in Congress, including Claire McCaskill (D-MO), oppose the idea, saying that military prosecutors lack sufficient institutional authority to be successful. McCaskill, meanwhile, has proposed legislation that would take away a commander’s power to nullify a jury verdict. Other proposals include one from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would result in the automatic dishonorable discharge of convicted sex offenders. With a record seven women on the Senate Armed Services Committee, hope remains that they’ll be able to come together and pass something meaningful.