Capito, Ernst cosponsor bipartisan bill to improve military justice, prevent sexual assault

U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) on April 29 joined 40 other original cosponsors to introduce a bipartisan bill that would increase the prevention of sexual assaults and other crimes in the United States military, including murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography, and negligent homicide.

“As a former combat commander and a survivor of sexual assault, I understand the traumatic experiences too many of our service members have faced,” Sen. Ernst said. “Sexual assault has no place in our military — or anywhere else — and it’s far past time we take more steps toward preventing and reducing these heart-wrenching crimes.”

“While they are in service of our nation, no service member should ever live in fear of being attacked by someone they are training or fighting with or feel as though they cannot report sexual assault incidents without facing retaliation,” said Sen. Capito.

The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, S. 1520, which is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), would move the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors, according to the senators’ bill summary. 

Additionally, S. 1520 would provide for several new prevention provisions, such as increased and improved training for commanders, while ensuring they also retain the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate, the summary says.

“This new, bipartisan bill — the result of Republicans and Democrats working together — will bolster prevention programs, education, and training; improve how we hold perpetrators accountable while ensuring commanders still have visibility of what’s going on in their unit; and equip military prosecutors with the skills necessary to handle sexual and domestic violence cases,” Sen. Ernst explained. 

Sen. Capito said the bill would ensure service members are trained and educated on sexual assault and would require the U.S. Department of Defense to improve security on military bases for all service members. S. 1520 “takes clear steps to provide members of the military with a peace of mind by moving sexual assault cases outside of the chain of command to trained prosecutions,” she said.

Misdemeanors and uniquely military crimes would continue to be prosecuted within the chain of command, the summary says.

“The goal has been and always will be to strengthen our fighting force and ensure all service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Sen. Ernst.