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Obama Orders Military To Review Sexual Assault

WASHINGTON (WJZ) -- A shocking rise in reported sex crimes in the military leads to action. Congress just passed some new reforms, but critics say they should be doing much more.

Mike Hellgren delves into the sexual assault crisis.

All that's needed right now on those reforms is the president's signature. But critics say more power should be taken out of the hands of the chain of command, including a Maryland attorney who's worked on many of these cases at the Naval Academy.

Congress passed sweeping reforms to help a growing number of service members who report being sexually assaulted.

Between January and December of this year alone, 3,553 say they were victimized--a staggering 46 percent jump from last year.

Military brass and lawmakers have fought over whether to take power from the chain of command.

"What we know from victims is they don't see an opportunity for justice. They see their command may be biased against them. They may favor the perpetrator. They may favor pushing it under the rug because it makes the commander look bad," said Senator Kristin Gillibrand, (D) New York.

Related Link: Read Sen. Barbara Mikulski's Statement

The most significant new reform is that commanders can no longer overrule the decisions of court martials in sexual assault cases.

New legislation includes offenses in personnel records, eliminates the statute of limitations and establishes minimum sentences.

Baltimore lawyer Susan Burke has represented several high-profile clients, including the Navy midshipman who says she was assaulted by fellow midshipmen last year in Annapolis.

"Why would anyone be in favor of service members having second-class justice? It's just not fair," Burke said.

The president says he'll give top military leaders one year to make more progress before a review, adding: "We have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes."

Related Link: Read President Obama's Full Statement

"Giving them another year is inappropriate and is basically not recognizing the urgency and how many human beings are being hurt every day," Burke said.

The Navy Times reports the new director of the NCIS says his agency is in dire need of more resources to handle the mounting caseload, and without it, cases could be compromised.

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