Military Sexual Assault; Senators block sex assault reform, push other protections for victims

(NBC News) Efforts by Congress to stop the growing number of military sexual assaults faces an uncertain future.

Senators have already rejected one plan which would take commanders out of the equation when it comes to which cases get tried in military court.

Instead they're pushing forward with other protections for victims that are more palatable for military leaders.

That plan requires senior military officers to review decisions by commanders not to prosecute sexual assault cases...

"Don't let anyone say the proposal we are doing today are not doing what is right for the victims of sexual assault," said Missouri democrat Senator Claire McCaskill.

The proposal replaces an attempt by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to give military prosecutors not commanders the power to decide what cases are prosecuted.

"This is not a radical idea it is a common sense proposal, said New York Senator Gillibrand a democrat.

The Democrat in charge of the Armed Services Commmitee Senator Carl Levin blocked that bill..

It is harder to hold someone accountable for failure to act if you reduce their power to act, said Senator Levin of Michigan.

Levin and other key senators sided with defense department leaders who have argued the Gillibrand proposal went too far.

"I don't think we can fix the problem senator or have accountability without the command involved in that," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified.

The bill's more than two dozen co-sponsors questioned that logic.

"The idea that that's going to undermine morale needs to be looked at," said New Hampshire democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

The Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted or abused last year but only 3,600 victims actually reported the attacks.

This is an appalling situation that seems to get worse by the day, said democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State.

By the end of the week the house is also expected to vote on measures to address military sexual assaults.

Secretary Hagel said a special panel will meet in two weeks to consider reforms.

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