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Heitkamp votes to address epidemic of sexual assault in the military

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today supported legislation to help put an end to sexual assault in the military.

"As Senators, it's our responsibility to stand up for those who don't always feel like their voices are heard. We recently uncovered some shocking details about the drastic increase in sexual assaults in the military which jumped by more than a third in just one year," said Heitkamp. "We should all be very disturbed by these statistics. But the fact is that one sexual assault in the military is one too many. When I discuss this issue with North Dakota veterans and service members, they repeatedly tell me it is crucial that we remove the military chain of command from the decision as to whether or not an alleged sexual assault is prosecuted. It's reprehensible that we aren't providing those who sacrifice so much for our country with the protections they deserve. Unfortunately, this legislation did not pass. While a different bill that did advance today is a step in the right direction, we still have much more work to do to address the epidemic of military sexual assaults."

Heitkamp supported the Military Justice Improvement Act which would remove the military chain of command from the investigation and prosecution of military sexual assaults. Under the current system, victims have too often been discouraged from coming forward for fear of retaliation. But this proposal would change that course, as cases would instead be handled by the bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibran (D-NY) was defeated. Heitkamp later suppurated separate legislation sponsored by Senator Clair McCaskill (D-MO) which would also take critical steps to strengthen protections for service members while keeping the chain of command in place.

On November 20, Heitkamp spoke on the Senate floor about the need to reduce sexual assault in the military and eliminate the chain of command from such cases.

A 2010 Department of Defense anonymous survey of service members showed a spike in the number of total military sexual assaults that year to 26,000 - a 37 percent increase from the previous year. The number of cases actually reported was a small portion of that number and an even smaller number of cases actually went to trial.