Taking the Hill with Patrick Murphy   |  January 26, 2014

Kristen Gillibrand ‘hopeful’ for assault bill

Sen. Kristen GIllibrand, D-N.Y., talks with Patrick Murphy about her bill that targets military sexual assault by taking the investigations out of the chain of command.

Share This:

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

>>> welcome back to "taking the hill." 16 years ago, i was a young lieutenant in germany, and i helped prosecute two sergeants who sexually abused a 19-year-old subordinate. she testified that after a night of drinking, she refused unwanted sexual advances. she was raped by both of them. now in 2012 , there was an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults in the military. almost 90% of those cases were never reported. senator kirsten gillibrand has introduced a military justice improvement act, which would come up for a vote as early as next month. at this point, it's short of the votes needed to avoid a filibuster. joining me now, senator kirsten gillibrand . welcome to "taking the hill."

>> thank you so much for having me on.

>> yeah, it's great to be with you. and thanks for coming to new york since you represent this area. senator, the military justice improvement act. can you share with our viewers what that is?

>> well, as you said, 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual attempts, rapes, sexual assaults last year alone. and what's really going on is there's been a breach of trust. the women and men who have been so brutally raped aren't reporting these cases because they do not believe their commanders will do anything. they also fear retaliation. because of the one out of ten brave souls who did report these cases, 62% were retaliated against. so you have a culture, and unfortunately a climate within our military where there's too much fear to be able to seek justice and it's so broken. even the commandant of the marine corps says the reason they don't report these cases is they don't trust us , they don't trust the chain of command .

>> there has been some reform. what are some of the reforms -- what has been done recently?

>> as chair of the personnel subcommittee, we moved forward into the base bill a lot of reforms that will make a difference once a case is actually reported. so, for example, if you report a rape, you will get a victim's advocate. there will be better record-keeping, better rules of evidence . but all of those benefits only accrue to those 3,000 people who reported last year. there were 23,000 people who didn't report because they didn't believe the chain of command would do anything or they feared retaliation. so what this measure does is begin to fix that broken system, to create an objective review by a trained military prosecutor who actually is a lawyer, our commanders are not often lawyers. to actually review the evidence. to weigh the evidence. and have no bias in the decision making . today, it's the only place in america where a boss will decide between two employees which one is guilty, who's not even trained as a lawyer, not trained as a prosecutor. it makes no sense. we've had victims who said it's like being raped by your brother and your father deciding the case. that is a justice system that is not worthy of the sacrifice that the men and women in our armed services give every day.

>> and your legislation, as i read it, the military commanders still have misdemeanor authority, so if they're --

>> they keep all military-related crimes. they keep all non-serious crimes. but if there's been a rape or a murder, our civil liberties , our view of justice demands that the decision maker about those cases -- it should be blind justice . shouldn't tip the scales for the defendant or for the victim. it has to be blind and it should be based only on evidence. what we've heard from too many victims is either their commander may well be their assailant or may well know their assailant, may prefer their assailant, or value their assailant more, or they just don't think anything will be done because there's an inherent bias when the commander fierce it may look badly on him that there's been a rape under his command.

>> when i look at the troops that are there on the front lines, and they perceive this inherent conflict of interest with the commanders and making these judgments. but what your bill does, it's military justice , not in civilian courts. it's a compromised, moderate approach. so explain, do you think that will help the underreporting that is so drastic within the military?

>> i do. it's the one thing, the one thing victims have said over and over and over again they would like, is this decision making to be outside the chain of command . someone who doesn't know them. someone who doesn't know their perpetrator. doesn't have a reason to push it under the rug. someone who's just a trained, unbiased objective reviewer who can make evidence properly and make a judgment. we're hoping with this reform it will give people confidence again in the system, and believe that justice is possible for them. and that's unfortunately what they do not believe today.

>> all right. let's talk politics. where are we today?

>> well, we have 53 supporters. we have a majority of the senate all right. we have even more who are not yet public in their support. and if we are forced to overcome a filibuster because of the politics, we will. we will get the votes we need to pass this measure. because the men and women who serve in our armed services do not deserve to be attacked, raped, or brutalized by somebody within their own unit. we're not talking about some foreign enemy abroad. we're talking about the brothers and sisters that they serve every day with. they deserve a justice system that's worthy of their sacrifice.

>> and how about president obama , quickly, and the pentagon. are they for this? against it?

>> i'm hopeful that president obama will show his support for this over time . he is looking at some review over the next year. but if i'm the mother of a soldier who's been so brutally raped, i don't want to wait another year. i don't want incremental measures for only those who feel the climate is safe now have report. god forbid it's my son who's raped brutally as a young man in the military and feels justice isn't possible. i don't want to have to wait another year. so i'm hopeful. because there is a growing chorus, patrick. we've got generals, former military leaders. we've got every veteran in iraq and afghanistan, veterans of america supports this bill. we have vietnam veterans of america supporting this bill. all of the victims advocacy groups supporting this bill. even the hand-picked panel who opine on the status of women in the military have supported the measures in this reform. this is what can make a difference. that's why we have to fight.

>> the systemic change is needed. senator, thank you for being here. i appreciate this. this is the first time we're covering it living but we're going to be tracking this very closely. we wish you luck. i want to make sure that people know that senator gillibrand will be taking your questions exclusively on msnbc.com, so leave your question. just go to takingthehill.msnbc.com. post your question in the veterans comment thread. we'll show senator gillibrand's