Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has candidly criticized the military’s handling of sexual assault in the ranks. She has called to task general officers on Capitol Hill and backed bipartisan reforms that would add protections for victims and hold offenders accountable. She also put a permanent hold on the nomination of an Air Force three-star who granted clemency to an officer convicted of sexual assault.
Yet McCaskill has raised the ire of a prominent advocacy group for military victims of sex crimes — not once but twice in the last month.
In late June, Protect Our Defenders accused the lawmaker of minimizing a Defense Department report that showed 26,000 men and women in uniform said they had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. McCaskill said those incidents could have included “someone looking at you sideways and saying something about how nice you look in a sweater.”
Today, Protect Our Defenders issued a news release calling McCaskill “one of the biggest roadblocks to the creation of a professional, independent and impartial military justice system.”
The congresswoman has stopped short of supporting such a measure, which Protect Our Defenders and some lawmakers have said is necessary to rid the ranks of sexual assault. McCaskill said in a press release Friday there is no evidence removing the handling of the crime entirely from the chain of command will increase prosecution — and could actually have the reverse affect.
“If five years from now we’re having fewer sexual assault convictions, if we have fewer reports of sexual assault that appear to be an anomaly in terms of the overall incidents coming down, I’ll be first in line,” she told The Nation.
“Sen. McCaskill has set the bar ridiculously low,” the group said in a news release. “She in essence is saying that, if five years from now, this epidemic is worse than it is today she will support fundamental reform.
“We have spoken to hundreds of survivors and they all say the same thing: their chain of command shut down the complaint, didn’t believe them, threatened them with collateral misconduct, or discharged them with errant medical diagnoses such as ‘personality disorder,'” POD president Nancy Parrish said in a statement. “Victims want a system they can trust, which will in turn increase reporting rates.”
Parrish said reporting rates actually went up in Israel after the creation of an independent justice system. “We need an impartial and fair military justice and we need it now,” she said.