Centralia — U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler announced Friday she is cosponsoring legislation to confront a rise in military sexual assaults.
Herrera Beutler's legislation would take the evaluation and response for such incidents outside the military chain of command.
The bipartisan "Military Justice Improvement Act" is a legislative response to a 37 percent increase in sexual assaults within the armed services over the last two years, according to Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.
"Despite efforts by military leadership to address this serious issue, the problem remains," she said in a news release. "A Defense Department report found that fewer than one in six cases were being reported to authorities, often due to fear of retaliation by superiors. A quarter of the time, the perpetrators of these crimes were in the victims' direct chain of command."
The "Military Justice Improvement Act" would amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to transfer crimes such as rape and sexual assault to independent, trained professional military prosecutors who would weigh prosecution based on evidence.
"I want our military to continue setting the standard for honor and discipline, which is why I'm supporting this bill," Herrera Beutler said. "We only have two choices: take the prosecution of these crimes outside the chain of command, or face the reality that sexual assault in the military will get worse."
The U.S. Senate has been debating nearly identical legislation, Senate Bill 967, which was introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and has strong bipartisan support.
According to Herrera Beutler, "supporters are hopeful the bill can earn passage when the Senate reconvenes in December."
Earlier this year, the U.S. Congresswoman traveled to Afghanistan where she had the opportunity to discuss and learn more about this issue from members of the military and officials with on-the-ground experience.
In June, she took steps to protect military victims of sexual assault and rape when she supported legislation that would add rape, sexual assault, and other sexual misconduct to the list of crimes eligible for protected communication. She also supported provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that established minimum sentencing guidelines for sexual assault and stripped commanders of their ability to dismiss the findings of a court-martial, according to the news release.