Measure to combat sexual assault would limit military commanders’ power

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey testifies on sexual assault in the military before the U.S. Senate Arms Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2013. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp, U.S. Army.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey testifies on sexual assault in the military before the U.S. Senate Arms Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 4, 2013. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp, U.S. Army.

A group of U.S. senators, including Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, is pressing to strip military commanders of the authority to decide how to handle accusations of rape within their units.

Murkowski said at a press conference on Wednesday that every general who has ever come to her office to discuss the problem says they same thing – that they have zero-tolerance for sexual assault.

“’We have our eyes wide open’ – well, they’ve had their eyes wide open for 20 years!” Murkowski said.

Murkowski says the Pentagon’s time to address the problem has expired. The measure she supports would let military prosecutors decide which cases to pursue.

A former Marine Corps officer who says she was assaulted in 2010 also spoke at the event. Iraq veteran Ariana Klay says when she reported the rape, her commanders blamed and humiliated her.

“The humiliation of the retaliation was worse than the assault because it was sanctioned from the same leaders I would have once risked my life for,” Klay said.

The senators who turned out to support the measure ranged from New York Democrat Kristen Gillibrand to Texas Republican Ted Cruz.

Top Pentagon leaders have come out against the idea, saying it will leave commanders unable to crack down on sexual assault in their ranks.