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House panel approves changes to military's sexual assault laws

May. 22, 2013 - 03:53PM   |  
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A House panel passed sweeping changes in sexual assault prevention programs on Wednesday, with less command flexibility in reducing or dismissing rape and assault charges and wider support for victims.

The House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel approved the hot-button personnel issues Wednesday as part of the 2014 defense authorization bill.

Draft legislation released Tuesday showed the committee chairman, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., gathered a wide range of proposals from other lawmakers into the sweeping package of change that could, in some cases, alter the military justice system.

For example, Wilson proposes a provision prohibiting commands from dismissing a conviction for any serious offense, not just rape or assault. It also prohibits a command from reducing a guilty finding to a lesser offense.

These restrictions would apply for any rape or sexual assault conviction, but also to any conviction where the sentence was more than 30 days confinement or forfeiture of more than two-thirds of pay.

The mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of rape, sexual assault or forcible sodomy would be discharge or dismissal, under Wilsonís proposal.

Another proposed provision would eliminate the five-year statute of limitations on trial by court martial. This would apply to crimes of sexual assault or sexual assault of a child.

For sexual assault victims, Wilsonís proposal allows them to get away from an alleged assailant who is in their command or at the same base. An assault victimís request for transfer would have to receive consideration by a commander, and the temporary reassignment or removal of the alleged attacker also would be authorized.

Additionally, special victimsí counselors, trained in sex crimes, would be available to provide legal assistance. Their duties would include accompanying victims to any legal proceeding or mental health appointments and to discuss the possibility of civil litigation.

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