Lawmakers push to punish sexual offenders in the military

Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Updated: 12:54 p.m. ET

On the heels of a recent report detailing 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012 alone, a handful of lawmakers are pushing tough new laws that would punish the perpetrators of these crimes rather than the victim, and which seek to help transform the culture in a military that has been riddled with sexual offense.

In a press conference Thursday, Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Nikki Tsongas, D-Mass., and Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, introduced a bill they say will help empower victims of sexual assault while making it tougher for perpetrators to get away with their actions.

The bill would prohibit commanding officers to overturn or dismiss court-marshaled convictions on sexual assault and rape and other crimes; require convening authorities to justify any modifications made to a sentence, and mandate that they get input from the victim; mandate dishonorable discharge or worse for anyone who is convicted of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt at any of those offenses; and eliminate the five-year statute of limitations in pressing charges for sexual offenses.

"We need to march forward unified with important reform that will protect and support the victims, that will make sure the rules make sense in terms of seeking justice," McCaskill told reporters. "We cannot make this about the blame game we sometime engage in between the House and the Senate."

Collins argued the legislation will "send a far clearer message" that about what the military will tolerate in terms of sexual assault, and help bring about a "culture of no tolerance" in the military as well as a "policy" of no tolerance.

"The Pentagon's annual report on sexual assault and harassment revealed that last year there were some 26,000 cases," she said. "This cannot stand. And I am confident that, working together, we can solve this problem."

The lawmakers acknowledged that other laws pertaining to sexual assault in the military are in the works - including legislation sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. - but she argued they can all work together to make sure the right reforms make it through Congress.

"I think we are looking at a lot of different proposals," she said. "I think the important thing is to try to get as many of us to agree on these reforms so that we don't end up with legislation that is a party line vote."

"We all need to keep an open mind about all these pieces of legislation," she added.