The U.S. Senate has approved the McCaskill-Ayotte-Fischer Bill Thursday, it strengthens reforms to halt sexual assaults in the military.

The bill, if passed, would add more penalties to already historic reform. New mandates would include stripping Commanding Officers of the ability to overturn jury convictions, assigning victims independent legal council, mandating dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sexual assault and more.

Senator McCaskill’s press release Thursday evening outlined the motion in the senate.

Press Release from Senator Claire McCaskill’s Office

WASHINGTON – Former sex crimes prosecutor and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today released the following statement after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to advance toward approval of legislation she cosponsored with Senators Kelly Ayotte and Deb Fischer to curb sexual assaults in the military by strengthening the already historic reforms included in the recent defense bill:

 “This debate has been about one thing—getting the policy right to best protect and empower victims, and boost prosecutions of predators. I believe we’re on the cusp of achieving that goal. The Senate has voted to strengthen even further what is now one of the most victim-friendly justice systems in the world. I’m eager to continue working closely with my colleagues such as Senators Levin, Ayotte, and Fischer—and with Senator Gillibrand who has been instrumental in focusing the nation’s attention on addressing this critical topic—to aggressively and vigilantly implement these reforms and turn the corner in our shared battle to curb sexual assaults in the ranks.”

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to advance toward approval of McCaskill’s bipartisan bill. Final passage of the legislation is expected on Monday night. Under the legislation, the “good Soldier” defense for servicemembers accused of assault would be been banned, and victims will be allowed formal input in whether their case is tried in military or civilian court, among other new protections.

The Senate also voted today to reject an alternative proposal by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that would have stripped senior commanders of their ability to launch courts-martial. McCaskill, relying on her experience as a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, opposed the Gillibrand alternative—arguing that the proposal would result in less protection for victims and fewer prosecutions of predators. McCaskill’s opposition to that legislation was recently validated when an independent panel of policy experts created by Congress—majority-civilian and majority-women—undertook the first comprehensive analysis of the Gillibrand proposal. The Response Systems Panel—which included the author of the federal Rape Shield law and the director of the National Center for Victims of Crime—considered testimony from more than 150 witnesses, and ultimately voted decisively to reject the proposal. No other experts have done similarly comprehensive work on this issue.

McCaskill helped shape and pass historic legislation to curb sexual assault in the military as part of last year’s annual defense bill, which resulted in a host of reforms already being implemented, including:

 

  • Stripping commanders of the ability to overturn jury convictions,
  • Requiring civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case,
  • Assigning victims their own independent legal counsel to protect their rights and fight for their interests,
  • Mandating dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sexual assault,
  • Criminalizing retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault,
  • Eliminating the statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases,
  • And reforming the pre-trial “Article-32” process to better protect victims.