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Senate cracks down on sex assaults in military

Nov. 28, 2012 - 05:37PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 28, 2012 - 05:37PM  |  
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The Senate voted Wednesday to require any service member convicted of rape, sexual assault or forcible sodomy to be administratively discharged if their sentence didn't order punitive dismissal, the first of what could be a flood of amendments to the 2013 defense policy bill cracking down on sex crimes in the military.

Military courts often have great flexibility in sentencing, so someone could be fined or reduced in rank if convicted of sexual assault without necessarily being forced out of service. By voice vote and with no debate, the Senate passed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. D-N.Y., that would not restrict what military courts can do but would require those convicted of sex crimes to be processed for administrative separation.

Several other amendments related to sex crimes in the military are pending before the Senate.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has three amendments that would make big policy changes. First, she proposes to require that rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy charges be handled only through courts-martial, and not through nonjudicial punishment.

She also wants a command review of personnel records of anyone accused of a substantiated rape or sexual assault claim to determine if the accused was been convicted in a court-martial or through nonjudicial punishment of a similar crime. Finally, she wants restricted incident reports on sexual assault allegations to be retained by the military for a minimum of 50 years.

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is aimed at helping victims by lowering the standard of proof required by the Veterans Affairs Department for a sexual assault victim to be eligible for disability compensation for post-traumatic stress resulting from sexual trauma.

Tester's plan would allow a written statement by a veteran about rape or assault to be accepted as proof if a mental health professional also supplies a written statement that the disability is consistent with the statement and with the individual's military service.

That plan would be helpful in instances where there is no official record, such as health care or police reports, to collaborate a victim's claim.

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