On a conference call with military sexual assault survivors, advocates and journalists on Wednesday evening, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) compared the resistance to legislation that would take reporting sexual assault out of the chain of command in the military to resistance to the military's now-defunct Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation.
"We're hearing a lot of the same excuses," Gillibrand said on the call, sponsored by the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. She likened the opposition to objections over allowing gay and lesbian service members to be open about their sexuality.
Her legislation would move determination of whether charges should be pursued on a sexual assault away from military commanders and instead allow trained officers to pursue criminal charges. The bill would also prevent commanders from unilaterally overturning sexual assault convictions, as happened in several high-profile cases in recent months. Gillibrand's bill faces fierce opposition, not only from the Pentagon, but also from her colleague, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who stripped her amendment from the defense spending bill in committee last month.
One victim asked, "We're talking about changing the Pentagon, do we even have a chance?"
"Of course we have a chance!" Gillibrand enthusiastically responded. "I'm hopeful, and you should be too."
Gillibrand's bill may come up as an amendment to a military spending bill in September. She recently picked up support form Republican Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX) on her effort to get to the necessary 51 votes.
She went on to encourage survivors to meet with and call their senators and representatives. "When they hear from you directly, it changes their view of the issue."
"I can't begin to tell you how critical you have been in these last few years," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) added. "You have made a sea change in this issue."
Speier proudly noted that as the House of Representatives debated the defense appropriations bill on Wednesday, she got two amendments attached on the House floor by voice vote. The first allots $65 million for the Department of Defense to go back and review some 31,000 cases of honorable discharges that have an attached personality or adjustment disorder, a common problem for survivors of military sexual trauma. The second allotted $10 million to improve training for sexual assault criminal investigations.
Speier noted a recent Government Accountably Report found that somewhere between 20 and 60 percent of cases in which honorable discharges had an attached personality or adjustment disorder, there was either no psychologist or psychiatrist who had made the determination or there had been some type of command intervention.
Her bill, the STOP Act, which Gillibrand mirrored in the Senate has yet to come to a committee vote in the Republican-dominated House.
[Ed. note: The story has been updated to include the call's sponsor.]