"The women of the Senate who led the fight to change how the military deals with sexual assault in its ranks are hailing passage of a comprehensive defense bill that now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature," The Associated Press writes this morning.
According to Military Times, the defense budget bill, which passed by a vote of 84-15 late Thursday:
"Includes about 30 provisions related to sexual assault in the military, including removing the authority of commanders to dismiss a court-martial finding, eliminating the current five-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault and establishing minimum sentencing guidelines for sex crimes.
"There also are several provisions aimed at protecting victims of rape and sexual assault, including allowing victims to apply for a transfer to a new unit or a new base and creating a specific criminal charge in the military justice system for retaliating against a victim who comes forward.
"Other adds include a provision to overhaul the military's Article 32 process of pretrial hearings to expand rights of sexual assault victims and to reduce consideration of the military record of the accused as a reason not to press charges."
"Today represents a huge win for victims of sexual assault, and for justice in America's armed forces, but this is no finish line," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of seven women on the Armed Services Committee who pushed for the changes, said after the Senate vote. "In the months and years ahead, vigilance will be required to ensure that these historic reforms are implemented forcefully and effectively."
Sexual assaults in the military and the way such cases are handled have been growing problems. As we reported back in May, the number of such assaults is thought to have increased by a third since 2010. There were an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012.
Too often, lawmakers and advocates say, the crimes aren't reported because victims fear retaliation or they are dismissed by commanders.
One related provision the legislation does not include, Reuters reports, is "an additional proposal by Senator Kristen Gillibrand [D-N.Y.], who is seeking to put decisions about prosecuting sex crimes in the hands of specialized attorneys rather than a victim's commanders, a measure opposed by military leaders."
The $632.8 billion measure, the AP adds, "covers combat pay, new ships, aircraft and military bases." According to Military Times, it "paves the way for troops to receive a 1 percent [pay] raise beginning Jan. 1."