The bill would also take preventatives measures, including increasing training for all members of the military from ROTC to enlisted officers, as well as criminal investigators and military prosecutors, so they have the tools they need to work on sexual assault and domestic violence cases.
Lawmakers argue that after spending roughly $1 billion on in trying to tackle the issue over the last decade, little change has been seen.
“I still wish that we could keep this in the chain of command. I really do,” Ernst told CNN. “But we are not seeing an improvement and this has gotten to a point where ‘OK, we just need to make a change.'”
“We have been working on these reforms for eight years and all of the reforms that the Department of Defense have been comfortable with, haven’t rendered results,” Gillibrand said, noting they’ve won over colleagues who have seen not enough change over the last few years.
“They are tired of waiting and they think this more profound, robust reform is needed,” Gillibrand said.
There’s still a long way to go before the proposed changes become law. But there are signs that lawmakers who opposed the effort in 2014 may be more inclined to back it this time — and Gillibrand may face less resistance from inside the Pentagon itself this time around.
“Secretary Austin has said he will support this reform as his commander in chief has told him he wants him to,” Gillibrand said.
For Ernst, her views on how to tackle military sexual assault have evolved in recent years. As a combat veteran and former commander herself, Ernst has been engaged in the issue since coming to Congress. But her own experience, paired with conversations she has had with her daughter, who is a student at West Point, made an impact in how she looked at ways to tackle this.
“You hear the stories and it’s not just West Point, it’s all of these service academies, it’s in ROTC on college campuses, we need to be able to teach about these behaviors, what to watch for and how to prevent them,” Ernst said.
“Once that sexual assault has occurred, you can’t go back,” Ernst said. “You can’t change what has happened. And you will relive, as a survivor, you will relive that moment of your life, over and over again. And I can tell you it’s not positive. So fact of the matter is, if we can stop a sexual assault from occurring, that’s exactly where we need to focus a lot of our efforts.”
“The results haven’t changed. On the Armed Services Committee there were three categories of people in 2013: those who said it had to come out of the chain of command, those who said it should be in the chain of command and then people like me and Sen. Angus King who said it should start in the chain of command, but we are going to hold you to it and if it doesn’t improve, we are going to do something different,” Kaine said.
“I thought we owed it to the chain of command to try to solve this problem, but they haven’t.”