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US Senate Considers Changes to Curb Sexual Assault in Military

June 04, 2013

Congress is questioning top U.S. commanders in a hearing aimed at changing the decades-old military justice system to stem sexual assault in the military.

Top U.S. military commander General Martin Dempsey and the chief officer of each branch of the military are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Some senators have proposed removing military commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. Instead, the decision would rest with seasoned trial counsels who hold the rank of colonel or higher.

The military has expressed concern that taking some authority from commanders would make it hard for them to maintain order and discipline.

"As we consider further reforms, the role of the commander should remain central. Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis," said Dempsey.

A study released by the Pentagon in May estimated that as many as 26,000 military members endured unwanted sexual contact in the military last year.

Committee chairman Senator Carl Levin said at the start of the hearing that "discipline is the heart of the military culture, and trust is its soul." He said accountability for sexual assault in the military "rests at the top," but addressing the problem requires action by all.

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