Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand unveiled sweeping new legislation Thursday that would crack down on sexual assaults in the military, just hours before the president met the secretary of defense to figure out how to stop a problem that has reached a crisis point in recent weeks. NY1's Washington reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report.
On Thursday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand unveiled new bipartisan legislation that would that would crack down on sexual violence by drastically changing the way the military handles sexual assault complaints.
"Words are not enough at this point. We need action," the senator said.
One by one, victims in Gillibrand's Washington press conference told horrifying stories of being sexual assaulted during their military service and then ignored when they came forward.
"I'm a veteran and a survivor of rape and harassment in the military," said Jennifer Norris, a military sexual assault victim.
"When I was reassigned to seek medical help, my psychiatrist told me that I was lying about the rape and diagnosed me with a personality disorder," said Brian Lewis, another military sexual assault victim.
In just two years, the number of sexual assault incidents has grown by 37 percent to 26,000.
President Barack Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday to discuss the growing problem, just hours after Gillibrand unveiled her legislation.
The senator's bill would completely take commanders out of the decision-making process about whether to prosecute any crime that would result in a year or more in prison and leave it up to military prosecutors.
"When we take these cases outside of the chain of command, we give the victims the basic confidence to know that justice will be had and that there will be accountability and transparency in their case," Gillibrand said.
The legislation would also bar military commanders from overturning convictions. Hagel has expressed support for that provision, but has resisted taking the chain of command out of prosecutions.
There has also been resistance from lawmakers about drastically changing the military justice system, but recent incidents now have lawmakers from both parties calling for action.
Senators will likely debate the measure next month as they put the finishing touches on their defense bill. In a statement, a Defense Department spokesperson says Hagel has not ruled out any options.