Nightly News   |  May 22, 2013

Senators seek justice for military sexual assault victims

In an exclusive special report, NBC’s Maria Shriver speaks with three senators who are working to create legislation that will allow outside prosecutors to decide whether or not to take military sexual assault cases to trial rather than relying on military commanders to play that role.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back now with an nbc news exclusive. the rising number of sec e shall assaults in the military. there have been several high profile incidents of late. today a house committee approved a number of provisions to military law including stripping commanding officers of the authority to overturn court-martial sex assault convictions. tonight maria schriver talks with three powerful women in congress who are leading the charge for justice for a lot of women in the military .

>> reporter: is this a military crisis, a cultural crisis, a sexual crisis, or a legal crisis?

>> all of the above.

>> all of it.

>> without a doubt. when you have 26,000 victims a year and less than 10% report the crime?

>> these men and women are going through the most horrible crimes, yet they cannot feel they can report these crimes and they do not feel the existing system will give them justice.

>> the president said there is no silver bullet . is there?

>> there isn't one solution. we have to do not only change the law, we have to have better training. we have to discharge individuals who are convicted of these crimes. that will send such a message if they receive a dishonorable discharge .

>> accountability is the answer. when there are more prosecutions and more convictions and more men and women feel comfortable as they come forward that they aren't going to be marginalized, labeled with some disorder and kicked out of the military, then it would be different.

>> reporter: talk a bit about that that this is not just what's going on in the military but the ramifications of the sex abuse allegations for years to come.

>> the victims have told us they can survive the rape or assault. what's difficult to survive is how they were treated afterwards. they see the military as their calling, as their family. for a lot of these women when they separate from active duty they do experience post traumatic trestress disorder in high numbers .

>> they carry this with them for the rest of their lives. we have got to clean the system completely.

>> reporter: do you feel there is a similarity between what we are seeing in the military and what's happened in the catholic church ?

>> absolutely. whenever you have a closed system and you can control the environment and sweep things under the rug, you can move people around which is what happened in the catholic church . it's what happened in the military.

>> what parent is going to want to have their daughter, in particular, go into the military if they feel she's not safe from a sexual assault from her fellow service members?

>> reporter: how confident are you that you will change the law?

>> oh, we're going to change the law.

>> very confident.

>> we're going to change the law. there is no turning back at this point.

>> three leading members of congress with our special correspondent maria