(Hartford, CT) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued the following statement after Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a directive ordering all military services to exercise independent judgment in military sexual assault cases. Additionally, Secretary Hagel announced that DOD will implement several new measures to combat military sexual. These measures will improve victim support, strengthen pretrial investigations, enhance oversight, and make prevention and response efforts more consistent across all military services.
“Secretary Hagel’s directive ordering military services to exercise independent judgment in sexual assault cases shows, once again, why removing prosecutorial decisions from the chain of command makes sense,” Blumenthal said. “The likelihood of unfair command influence is one of many reasons to remove prosecutorial decisions from the chain of command. Command influence is inherent and indeed essential in the present system – it’s called leadership, through condemning sexual assault. By assigning prosecutorial decisions to an independent, specially trained and experienced prosecutor, the system can be made fairer to both victim and accused. Such a system is essential to better reporting by victims, because it avoids re-victimizing them."
Blumenthal added, “While I applaud the Department of Defense for implementing these measures, several of which I proposed and supported, there is still much more that needs to be done to combat the scourge of military sexual assault. Military sexual assault victims are still not guaranteed victims’ rights or financial compensation – measures that are included in legislation I introduced in May. Congress should act quickly to address these and other statutory reforms needed to ensure our military justice system reflects the excellence of our men and women in uniform.”
Below is a list of the new measures DOD will implement to combat military sexual assault:
- Ensure that pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by JAG officers;
- Provide commanders with options to reassign or transfer a member who is accused of committing a sexual assault or related offense in order to eliminate continued contact while respecting the rights of both victims and the accused;
- Require timely follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command;
- Direct DOD's Inspector General to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations;
- Standardize prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees across the Department, and;
- Develop and proposing changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial.
In April, Blumenthal called on the Senate Appropriations Committee to include funding for the establishment of a Special Victims’ Counsel program across all military services, a program that would provide victims of military sexual assault with independent, attorney-client privileged representation. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee included $25 million for the establishment of a Special Victims’ Counsel program in the FY2014 defense appropriations bill.