A bipartisan plan to overhaul the way sexual-assault cases are handled in the military was easily approved by the Senate Monday evening.
The measure written by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was approved 97 to 0 -- a rare unanimous vote.
But Congress has been quick to respond to the rising rate of assault and rape in the ranks. Last year lawmakers voted to revamp the military’s legal system, ending the statute of limitations on assault and rape cases, making it a crime to retaliate against victims who report assaults and requiring the dishonorable discharge or dismissal of anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape.
McCaskill's proposal goes further by eliminating the “good soldier” defense that takes irrelevant factors such as the service record of the accused into account. In cases where there is a dual jurisdiction because the crime occurred off of a military base, the victim would get a say in whether the case would be handled in a civilian or military court. The proposal would extend protections to students in service academies. It also would require that in every decision on every promotion in the military, that commander’s record on the handling of sexual-assault cases would have to be taken into account.
Although it passed easily in the Senate, the proposal's fate remains unclear in the House.
Monday's vote capped months of emotional debate led by McCaskill and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), whose proposal to strip military commanders of any say in whether accusations of rape and assault should be prosecuted, was narrowly defeated last week.
In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, McCaskill said she had been bruised by the pronouncements of other Democratic women in the Senate, especially Gillibrand and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). As debate on both bills concluded last week, McCaskill sought to put focus on the many areas where lawmakers agreed to make reforms. But moments later, Gillibrand sharply stated: “This is not an opportunity to congratulate ourselves on the great reforms we’ve done."
In response, McCaskill said in the interview: "I’m a tough cookie, but both Boxer and Gillibrand’s arguments stung."
Melinda Henneberger contributed to this report.