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By Miriam Raftery

November 18, 2013 (Washington D.C.) -- A battle is brewing in the U.S. Senate over a proposal aimed at protecting women in the military from sexual assault.

According to the Defense Department, REPORTS of sexual assaults shot up 46 percent in the last budget year, with 3,353 complaints filed from October through June.

But Senator Kirsten Gillebrand points out that an anonymous survey of military personnel conducted by the Pentagon found that the 26,000  said they were sexually assaulted last year. Senator Gillebrand says most sexual assaults were not reported because victims didn’t trust the chain of command or feared retaliation. So she is proposing to strip commanders of authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault, instead handing off these cases to experienced military lawyers outside the chain of command.

 It’s all part of an annual defense policy bill that would also strip commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions. In addition, it would require dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault. It would also establish a civilian review when a decision is made not to prosecute a case.

Gillebrand says she has 50 votes for the measure – enough to pass the Senate, but not the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster.  Her support includes some Republicans and Democrats, men  as well as Democrats. 

But the provision has strong opposition from some top military leaders and key Senators, including Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain, former presidential candidate.  Those opposed claim Gillebrand’s plan would cost $113 million each year including salaries for 600 lawyers and support staff needed to prosecute the vast army of sexual assault cases in our armed forces.

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