Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Wednesday attempted to make the case for her legislation to crack down on military sexual assaults.

"The problem is very clear, because the victims have told us what it is," she said as the Senate Armed Services Committee considered amendments to the annual defense spending bill. "And I am just distressed that the victims' voices aren't being heard in this debate."

She said the victims number one concern was a climate of retaliation, where those who reported sexual crimes ended up being punished for speaking out. Gillibrand said victims of military sexual assault feared being retaliated against, blamed and marginalized if they reported the crime.

"The victims tell us they do not report because of the chain of command," she explained, adding that women were often victimized by senior officers. "They see that the chain of command will not be objective."

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 17-9 to replace the Gillibrand's Military Justice Improvement Act with a watered-down amendment proposed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

Gillibrand's measure would have removed the authority of commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases and turned such powers over to independent military lawyers. Levin's amendment, in contrast, keeps the prosecution of sexual assault within the chain of command, but mandates a review whenever a commander decides not to prosecute a case.

"I will continue to fight to strengthen this bill by offering the Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment when the Defense bill is on the full Senate floor for a vote," Gillibrand said in a statement. "Our advocacy on this issue to remove the sole decision making of the chain of command in serious crimes has only just begun."

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