Senators Urge Overhaul of Rape Justice System in Military

Capping a day of emotional Senate testimony from victims of sexual assault in the military, lawmakers on Wednesday urged an overhaul of how the military investigates reported rapes and said the current system is broken. Within it, sexual assaults are reported to commanding officers, rather than to any independent justice system — a process victims and advocates say has a chilling effect on reporting and ensures that many reported rapes won't be investigated. Indeed, victims said that they were often pressured to keep quiet and that their attackers often went unpunished, and one told the Senate panel that an Army chaplain in whom she confided told her the rape was "God's will." "A system where less than one than one out of 10 reported perpetrators are taken to trial for their alleged crimes is not a system that is working. And that is just the reported crimes," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. Only a fraction of the rapes and sexual assaults in the military are ever reported, according to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has spoken out extensively about the epidemic — including at a recent service for two slain police officers.

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