Alex Witt | June 16, 2013
>>> the senate's defense policy bill will soon go to a floor debate, where senator kirsten gillibrand will try to revive her measure to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command . the plan broke party ranks when it was voted down in committee last week 17-9. joining me now is u.s. marine corps veteran and military sexual assault survivor sarah plummer. sarah , thanks for being here.
>> thank you so much for having me.
>> now, you've long argued, as senator gillibrand is now, that you want to take assault cases out of the xhfof the chain of command . why do you think that's so key?
>> because precisely as the senator said, our military -- our military leaders may be dedicated and determined but they are not impartial. and we need impartial people being the final word on these criminal cases .
>> now, those opposed to the chain say that the chain of command is a vital part of military structure where seniority drives everything else. how do you respond to that?
>> i would agree. chain of command is a crucial part of command climate and leadership. however, we rely on experts for anything from dentistry to medical to road corrections on our bases. yet why are we not deferring to -- truly to legal experts and partial legal experts in these cases and let the rest of the stuff remain in the chain of command for command climate and misdemeanor cases but not for criminal cases .
>> now, the committee did approve independent review of sexual assault charges are not pursued in court. and another measure would make it a crime to retaliate against assault victims. do you think either of those will make a difference?
>> i think it's another step in the right direction. however, the military culture, even though some of those measures are kind of already in place, the culture still allows retaliation. i've seen it firsthand and i've seen it with other military sexual assault and rape survivors, that the retaliation still happens and there has to be prosecution on a larger level to actually deter retaliation and the crimes in the first place, i think.
>> and you've been very open about your experience with this. your personal experience with sexual assault in the military. was that something that you experienced?
>> it was. my personal experience is something that was drawn out actually over nearly the entire course of my seven-year career, resurfaced in different ways from command to command. and so yeah, i hold this issue near and dear to my heart and hope that we make tangible changes. and i think we are at a crossroads to address it beyond just this obtuse cultural issue and make positive changes on the legislative and administrative side of things. and i think that failed last week. and i think we need to keep charging forward to make these changes.
>> now, you left the marine corps in 2009 . how did that assault affect your career in the military?
>> i was blessed enough and fortunate enough i believe to still have what i felt like was a positive career in the marine corps . ultimately, i decided to leave for both personal and professional reasons, feeling as though i had personally dealt with on a healthy level what had happened to me yet continuing to be in that environment where for one -- one way or another it continued to get brought up or kind of thrown back in my face and just felt like it was best that i went on and did some other things that i was interested in personally and professionally.
>> now, the way that assaults are prosecuted is of course very important but that doesn't solve the core issue. why do you think this issue is so prevalent to begin with?
>> i think that there's been a basic leadership failure from our military commanders who all seem to respond, well, that's not happening in my unit, it's not happening in my unit, and keeping it in the chain of command is working in my unit. whose unit is it not working in then? and it starts with you at the top. so why are these military commanders i think essentially shirking responsibility? i think that does continue to promote a culture where this is acceptable.
>> sarah plummer, thank you for being here. and thanks for sharing your story.
>> thank you.