Senate Women Tackle Sexual Assault in the Military

Senate to vote as early as Wednesday on historic tightening of code

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J. Scott Applewhite/ AP

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski is on her way up.

An alien observing C-Span2 for the first time on Tuesday could be forgiven for thinking that the American people only elect women to the U.S. Senate. One after another, ten female senators from both parties took to the floor to show their unity on reforms on how the military deals with sexual assault.

The reforms, attached to the National Defense Authorization Act currently before the Senate, are actually supported by all 20 of the women in the Senate. The show of female unity on the bulk of the provisions in the bill covered a months-long rift amongst the women over a single provision authored by New York Democrat Kristen Gillibrand. That measure would take the handling of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and give it to the Judge Advocate General Corps. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill has offered a competing amendment, likely to pass, which leaves the power within the chain of command.

“I say to the press: we know you like conflict, we know you like controversy. You particularly want to see it among the women,” Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat and dean of the Senate women said on the floor. “We are trying to govern the way we were elected to govern, and I’m proud of what we’re going to do with the reforms that are there. I’m proud of the way we’ve gone about it. And if we disagree on some matters here or there, that’s what debate, rigor and civility will be all about.”

The Senate women take offense when the sexual assault in the military debate is pigeon holed as a “woman’s issue,” and their differences portrayed as the Senate’s first catfight. It was the presence of a record seven women on the 26-member Armed Services Committee that first drew national attention to the issue as female senators grilled and embarrassed generals and admirals testifying before the committee on the issue. Ultimately, like any piece of legislation, whatever wins the most votes on the Senate floor will be included in the bill and there is little doubt that all 20 women will stand united behind the final bill.

The Pentagon grew so worried about the prospects of Gillibrand’s bill—she had 50 votes as of Tuesday—that in August it instituted a series of changes sought by both Gillibrand and McCaskill, such as giving anyone alleging sexual assault independent counsel. The Pentagon, like McCaskill, argues that taking the process out of the chain of command corrupts the system and wouldn’t lead to more reporting. The brass hopes that by instituting the changes ahead of the vote, it will prevent Gillibrand from reaching the 60 she needs to overcome a filibuster. McCaskill’s bill, which is expected to pass, enjoys the support of Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and most Republicans. Whichever amendment passes, the 30 reforms supported by all the women are the most drastic in military history. Votes on both amendments could come as early as Wednesday, according to Senate leadership.

The idea of getting all the women together on sexual assault in the military began in the summer. At the end of June on a stormy summer evening, the 20 Senate women gathered in the ceremonial Appropriations Committee hearing room in the U.S. Capitol. Under murals depicting Dionysus, the God of Ritual Madness, they privately debated the competing proposals. In the middle of the hour-long meeting, McCaskill made an impassioned plea for her amendment. It fell flat, with 16 of the 20 supporting Gillibrand’s bill. Suddenly McCaskill’s long career as a prosecutor championing of victims of sexual assault was being called into question by the very people she had expected to back her: her fellow female senators.

At the meeting, the women all agreed that it would be more productive to underline the fact that the bills are 95% identical and that whichever one passes, it would represent the most significant overhaul of the issue in Congressional history. And that was the message that all 20 women stuck to in events at home or traveling abroad for the entire five-week summer recess. After banding together to reopen the government (as I write about here), the female senators met again on Nov. 4 with the women of the cabinet at a dinner hosted by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. There they discussed how best to highlight their historic agreements rather than their divisions and the idea of having as many women as possible speak on the floor Tuesday grew from there. Whichever bill passes, it’s striking the lengths most of the female senators have gone through to ensure both McCaskill and Gillibrand emerge winners from the debate. For the women in the Senate, winning doesn’t necessarily mean there has to be a loser.

7 comments
CranberryTownship-gay
CranberryTownship-gay

an open letter to the armed forces:
 
due to the world's unbeknownst participation in "the war on women," as well as to peoples' utmost tolerance of those who regard females as lesser people, men are held to a higher standard.  from scholastic and college sports, to professional sports, men do not compete against women.  there are separate (gender-based) bodybuilding competitions, gender-based hot-dog-eating competitions, etc, which always separate men from women, which always expect more of men, and this is a war on women which has to stop.
 
as a man who is expected to be capable of doing more than what a woman can do, i am denied entry into the armed forces because i am held to a higher standard on account of my gender.  i am a man, i am taller and broader and stronger than the vast majority of females in the military, i can physically do anything a "strong" woman can do, and yet i am denied entry into the armed forces.  i am a failure because more is expected of me...yet, if i merely had an egg-bleeding vagina (or a set of milk-spouting mammary glands), then my current physical ability would have granted me a place in the military.
 
i believe that if members of the shorter/smaller/weaker gender have their own set of physical requirements for the military only because they are pipsqueaks who cannot achieve as men can achieve, then a similar compensation should be given to the men who cannot meet the physical requirements for men.
 
like a bent-arm hang is no match for a set of pull-ups.  a woman is no match for a man.  now, i cannot do enough pull-ups to get me into the marines...palms out, all the way down and all the way up, i can do five times...but i believe that i should not be denied entry into the marines on account of my gender.  if a woman can do anything a man can do, and if both genders are permitted to be a part of the marines, a man should be able to become a soldier by doing anything a woman can do (ie, substituting pull-ups for a bent-arm hang).
 
i can do anything a woman can do, but it is sexist for the marines to only accept men who can do anything a woman CAN'T do.  men should not be held to a higher standard - doing so only states that women are lesser people.  if a bent-arm hang is all women can do, if women cannot do a decent number of pull-ups (or any at all), then pull-ups should be done away with.
 
GET RID OF GENDER-BASED REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MILITARY.
 
a woman joins the military because she's been told that she can do anything a man can do, the military would be accused of sexism if it didn't let members of the shorter/smaller/weaker gender become soldiers, but the fact remains that women are not held to the same standards as men are.  i am a man who can do anything a woman can do, and i will stand by that..  i am not asking for special compensations to allow my weaker presence into the military ("g.i. jane" or "private benjamin," anyone?), all i am asking for is for men to be held to the same standard as women.  if a bent-arm hang is what it takes to be a soldier, men should be held to the same standard.
 
by expecting men to do pull-ups, by expecting women to do a bent-arm hang, the military is publicly stating that a woman simply cannot do anything a man can do.  by denying a man who finishes a run in 4 minutes, by accepting a woman who finishes the same run in 7 minutes, the military is publicly stating that they don't expect a woman to be able to do anything a man can do.
 
GET RID OF GENDER-BASED REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MILITARY.
 
i don't believe that the integrity of the armed forces would be slighted by making a soldier out of a man who can do anything a woman can do.  i think that it belittles the "strong woman" when any organization requires men to be stronger than women.  i believe that it is righteous to label as "sexist," any branch of our national defense which requires men to be stronger than women.
 
by expecting more of men, the military is displaying their anti-woman sexism...as well as affirming what can only be referred to as "masculine superiority".  by expecting less of women, the military is buying into this OLD way of thinking: "a woman simply cannot do anything a man can do".
 
activists for mens' rights, as well activists for womens" rights, should both petition the military:
 
THE MILITARY SHOULD STOP ACCEPTING ONLY THE MEN WHO CAN DO ANYTHING A WOMAN CAN'T DO.  THE MILITARY SHOULD STOP DENYING MEN WHO CAN ONLY DO ANYTHING A WOMAN CAN DO!
 
dylan terreri, i
www.thelessergender.com
www.jaggedlittledyl.com, LLC
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"When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm thirsty, I drink. When I feel like saying something, I say it." - Madonna
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588847
588847

Shall I share my story? 

paulejb
paulejb

Are the Honorable ladies of the Senate aware that the majority of sexual assaults in the military occur against males? 

"In its latest report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, 53 percent involved attacks on men, mostly by other men."

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/in-debate-over-military-sexual-assault-men-are-overlooked-victims.html?_r=0

So much for don't ask, don't tell.


deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay. Will this bill pass the House, or has some version of it already done so? Alas, as we readers know, and YOU know, many progressive bills (okay, all of them) tend to die in the Tea Party-controlled House. I'd hate to see this issue get stalled there too.

ElizabethAllen
ElizabethAllen

Our gulag prison system in this country is filled with rapists who attack young non violent men. Approximately 240,000 rapes (reported) no idea how many are unreported, happens every day and every night in these gulags. We need to have a similar act for our prisons. Currently the Wardens and the CO's "cover up these outrageous offenses". We need to get a national act which takes the investigation out of the hands of the Wardens and the Prison guards, who are sanctioning this abuse. It is well known by State Attorney Generals office (whose duty is to protect the State) not the prisoners. We need independent proscecutors investigating those cases and proseceuting the rapists.

Nowhere1111
Nowhere1111

'It has worked in other countries' ...... pretty compelling argument.

jmac
jmac

Would anyone in their right mind want their boss to decide if sexual harassment occurred and whether it should be prosecuted?  Should the CEO of a company have that right?  Military men are not Gods.   The General is just as prone to misbehavior and cronyism and coverups and bias as the Sergeant - or your boss.  

Yes, we applaud all the women who worked so hard for these changes - but that doesn't mean the change we'll get is the best we can do.