House and Senate leaders pre-negotiated a defense authorization bill on Monday that doesn't include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) controversial amendment to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command.
The bill that will move forward does work to address the problem of military sexual assault, but several victim advocacy groups had considered Gillibrand's amendment to be the most essential proposed reform. Military sexual assault victims have said they are afraid to report their assaults because they don't trust the chain of command to handle their cases effectively. The Pentagon estimates that out of the 26,000 incidences of unwanted sexual contact that occurred in the military in 2012, only 3,000 were reported, and only 300 led to prosecutions.
"Congress has chosen to sidestep the most important military justice reform to come across its desk in history, once again leaving sexual assault victims devastated and betrayed by inaction," said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women's Action Network and a former Marine Corps captain.
The agreed-upon bill would strip military commanders of the ability to overturn jury convictions, require a civilian review if a commander declines to prosecute a case, assign victims an independent legal counsel to protect their rights, mandate a dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sexual assault, criminalize retaliation against victims who report a sexual assault and eliminate the statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases.
Gillibrand's proposal, which goes further, has divided the Senate, though not along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) supports it, along with nine Republicans. The bill currently has 53 public supporters, but it would likely need 60 to overcome a Republican-led filibuster.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who strongly oppose Gillibrand's amendment, have proposed their own amendment that was also not included in the final bill. Their proposal would prevent the military from acquitting a defendant in a sexual assault case because he or she was a "good soldier" and allow victims to challenge their discharge from the military if they felt they were being retaliated against, among other provisions.
Before Thanksgiving break, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the defense authorization bill three times because the Senate could not come to an agreement on some unrelated amendments. This week, the House and Senate decided to pre-negotiate a defense bill without any amendments in order to make sure the bill can be passed before the House recesses on Friday. Gillibrand's and McCaskill's amendments will not get votes in either chamber during this process, but both will now be considered as separate bills.
Anticipating that her amendment might not be included in the final defense bill, Gillibrand introduced it as a standalone measure before Thanksgiving under Rule 14, which enables it to bypass committee and go straight to the floor. Her office said that Reid has promised it will get a vote.
"The senator will not go away," said Gillibrand spokesman Glen Caplin. "She will keep fighting to protect our brave men and women in uniform and to strengthen our military."
McCaskill's bill, meanwhile, was added to the Senate calendar on Monday, possibly setting up another showdown between her more limited proposal and Gilibrand's. McCaskill said that although she is frustrated that her reforms were not included, the defense bill that negotiators agreed upon is a "huge win" for the Armed Forces.
Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.
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'Full Battle Rattle'
Rebekah Havrilla, out on patrol in Afghanistan. The former Army sergeant and Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist enlisted in 2004, seeking out job training, education, "some patriotic element" after 9/11 and a way out of South Carolina. "I went in with the idea of making a career out of it," she says. "I thought, I can't be Special Forces, I can't do Rangers because I don't have a penis -- closest thing I can get to actually doing that type of job is EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal]."
Havrilla crouches in the remnants of a "demolition shot" she and her team did of a "bunch of captured enemy munitions" outside of Forward Operating Base Gardez, in Afghanistan. "It's a very male dominated, hypermasculine environment, so you've got to be the tomboy, kind of, 'let's play cowboys and indians. And soldiers,'" she says. But to some, this also meant persistent sexual harassment and even assault.
Havrilla says intense nightmares kept her from sleep, night after night, after she got back from Afghanistan -- until recently, when she moved to New York. Though Havrilla says that at first she suffered from the kind of hyper-vigilance described by fellow combat veterans in urban settings, she loves the city -- namely because it is so different than where she grew up, in a conservative Christian family in rural South Carolina. She is getting her Masters and working for the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN).
An early photo of Tia Christopher, who joined the Navy at age 18 in 2000 and was out just under a year later, honorably discharged with a "personality disorder."
Tia Christopher and her friend Aston Tedford at a women veterans retreat in Arizona several years ago. Christopher now works as an advocate for veterans, in particular victims of MSA, and has written guidance on the subject.
Tia Christopher in a favorite photo.
'I'm Beautiful Despite The Flames'
Tia Christopher sent this photo of her recently completed tattoo Friday, Sept. 28. Written in Arabic, she says "her motto" -- which covers scars from her assault -- more literally translates: "Despite the flames that devoured my flesh, I am still beautiful."
Claire Russo in a childhood photo.
Claire & Coconut
Claire Russo pictured at 10 years old, in 1989 with "Coconut." Russo grew up near Washington, D.C., and worked on the Hill. "I was sort of -- well no, a really privileged middle-class kid," she says. "I was just fascinated with the debate, and the decisions the government was making … And I remember a very strong desire to serve."
Claire Russo Salutes Her Cousin
Claire Russo in 2004 at Quantico, right after being commissioned, saluting her cousin Tom Winkle, a Navy lieutenant and pilot. Russo lived with Winkle in San Diego, and was with him the night of her assault, at the Marine Corps Ball. It was Winkle that reported Russo's assault; she did not want to report, being afraid for her career.
Claire Russo (right) with her roommate at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., after finishing a field exercise. Russo says that one of the 30 females in the class of 180 was raped in the barracks while she was at The Basic School.
Claire Russo in a courtyard in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006, when she served as the targeting officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. She deployed two weeks after testifying at the discharge hearing of the serviceman who raped her, Douglas Alan Dowson -- he was already in prison.
'Citizen Of Courage'
Claire Russo (front) salutes the flag during the national anthem, before she was given the "Citizen of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office in 2006. Behind her is San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) Commanding General John Sattler, who Russo says is the "only commander to ever apologize to me for what I experienced."
Russo And San Diego DAs
Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means, Claire Russo and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, after Russo received the "Citizens of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office at Camp Pendleton in 2006.
Down The Aisle
Claire Russo at her wedding to Josh Russo. Lt. Josh Russo was stationed at Camp Pendleton, some 40 miles north, at the time of Russo's assault in 2004. He remains in the military.
Claire And Josh Russo
Claire and Josh Russo on their wedding day, with friends from the Marines.
Russo And Her Motorcycle
"Me on my Russian Minsk 120 cc dirt bike, in Laos. This was one day on an 8 month trip/honeymoon Josh and I took. We rode motorcylces through SE Asia, Australia and went to Africa," Russo describes in a recent email.
Claire Russo in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, on a mission with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Army Paratroopers. "I spoke with the district governor that day about how we could help to get a woman working for the Ministry of Womens Affairs working in his district," Russo writes.
Claire, Josh And Genevieve Russo In Paris
Claire Russo and her husband, Josh Russo, and their baby Genevieve, here four weeks old, in Paris. Josh serves in the U.S. Army.
"My 4 week old daughter Genevieve and I in front of a painting of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, who saved the city from the Huns," Russo writes.
Marti Ribeiro In Front Of Village
Marti Ribeiro served with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines over eight years as a combat correspondent.
As a combat correspondent, Marti Ribeiro accompanied medical convoys to remote areas without local doctors. Such clinics were set up in specific locations, so the locals needed significant advance warning of their arrival. When one such convoy came under attack, Ribeiro returned fire, earning her a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/women-at-war-unseen_n_1498291.html#slide=964342">Combat Action Badge</a>, though as a female, she officially should not have been in a position to take fire.
'Afghan Girls On Rooftop'
A photograph of Afghan girls, taken by Marti Ribeiro during her deployment.
Ribeiro In 2006
Marti Ribeiro and an Afghan boy in 2006.
'Soaked To The Bone And Miserable'
Marti Ribeiro titles this photo -- taken in Afghanistan in 2006 -- as "soaked to the bone and miserable."
Marti Ribeiro And Her Daughter Bela
Marti Ribeiro and her daughter, Bela, in San Antonio, Texas.