A Senate Subcommittee led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is hoping to shed more light on sexual assault in the military. Those testifying at the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel on Wednesday include advocates for victims of sexual assault as well as members of the military.
Anu Bhagwati is a former Marine Corps Captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network. The New Yorker said she's going to testify that the military's criminal justice system should be changed to provide more protection for victims and justice for perpetrators.
"The American public needs to understand that service members effectively don't have the same rights as the Americans whom they protect," Bhagwati said. For example, she said commanders determine whether cases of sexual assault or harassment move forward, creating institutional bias.
"Commanders are actually in the same chain of command as the accused, and so there's no way for a commander to be truly impartial in that case. What we need is for prosecutors, who are impartial, who are independent, who are actually trained attorneys," she said.
The Department of Defense said more than 3,100 sexual assaults were reported in 2011, the most recent year data is available. But the DoD and advocates for victims say that many more of the crimes — likely thousands more — continue to go unreported.