Sens. Hawley and Gillibrand join together on military sexual assault bill

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Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Josh Hawley, in an interesting alliance as members of the Senate Armed Services Committee,  introduced legislation Tuesday to improve the military’s response to sexual assault. 

The lawmakers – Gillibrand a vociferous Donald Trump opponent from New York, and Hawley a staunch Trump ally from Missouri – brought forth the Professionalizing the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Act, along with Sens. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa. 

The bill seeks to improve training and resources for the military’s sexual assault response coordinators after a Fort Hood Independent Review found that many members of the coordination team lack the training to help victims of assault. It tasks the Department of Defense with evaluating options to establish Sexual Assault Response Coordinator military operational specialty (MOS) and reporting its findings to Congress. 

The bill follows the murder of a female soldier, Spc. Vanessa Guillén, at Fort Hood after she’d been sexually assaulted by a supervisor on two occasions. Leadership ignored her reports of harassment and failed to take appropriate action, the Fort Hood review, concluded last month, found. 

“This legislation would aid the Department of Defense in identifying next steps to professionalize the role of Sexual Assault Response Coordinator throughout all branches of the military,” Hawley said in a statement on the bill. 

“To combat the epidemic of sexual assault in our military we must professionalize every part of the military justice system, including Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs),” Gillibrand added. “SARCs are an essential part of the front lines of combating military sexual assault and Congress has a duty to ensure SARCs have the training, resources, and independence to support our men and women in uniform.”

Gillibrand, with her colleague across the aisle, Ernst, has been working to overhaul handling of military sexual assault and has also pushed to take prosecution of military sex crimes out of the chain of command. Ernst and Gillibrand have led the  Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, which would task independent prosecutors with bringing forward sexual assault cases. 

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