Hours after Congress passed a defense funding bill that reforms the handling of military sexual assaults, President Barack Obama ordered a one-year review of the new changes, saying more changes may be needed if the proposed reforms don’t go far enough.
“Today, I instructed Secretary [of Defense Chuck] Hagel and Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin] Dempsey to continue their efforts to make substantial improvements with respect to sexual assault prevention and response, including to the military justice system,” Obama said in a statement. “I have also directed that they report back to me, with a full-scale review of their progress, by December 1, 2014.”
The National Defense Authorization Act, which awaits Obama’s signature, removes the ability of military commanders to overturn jury convictions, requires civilian review if military leadership won’t prosecute a sexual assault case, and requires a dishonorable discharge for service members convicted of sexual assault. The reforms, largely pushed by New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a group of other women lawmakers, also removes the one-year statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault cases, and makes retaliation against an accuser a crime.
But the measure stops short of one of Gillibrand’s key proposals, to give victims a path outside the chain of command to prosecute attackers. That measure faced stiff resistance from Pentagon leaders and a lukewarm reception at the White House.
“If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world,” Obama continued, alluding to the Gillibrand measure, which is expected to face a separate vote next year.