Military Sexual-Assault Verdicts Revive Debate on Hill

Pentagon officials have widely criticized a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to remove commanders from that process. Pentagon officials have widely criticized a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to remove commanders from that process. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Controversial decisions in two separate cases this week reignited the sexual-assault battle on Capitol Hill.

In the first closely watched case, a military judge on Thursday reprimanded Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair and ordered him to give up $20,000 in pay after admitting to adultery—with a women he supervised—as well as inappropriate relationships with two other women. Sinclair will serve no prison time, and the final result is a far cry from sexual-assault charges that were dropped and could have resulted in a life sentence.

A military judge also found Joshua Tate, a former Naval Academy football player, not guilty of sexual assault on Thursday. Tate has agreed to resign from the academy, but many were not satisfied with his punishment.

The Pentagon has been under a barrage of criticism from outside groups, members of Congress, and at times even itself over its handling of military sexual-assault cases.

But Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, said the back-to-back rulings hadn't changed Secretary Chuck Hagel's belief that the chain of command should be included in deciding whether a case is prosecuted.

"There are plenty of other cases that go all the way to trial and get convictions," Kirby said. "And look, prosecutions and convictions, while important in terms of holding people accountable, that's not the ultimate goal here. The ultimate goal here is zero sexual assaults in the military."

Pentagon officials have widely criticized a bill by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to remove commanders from that process. The New York Democrat failed to overcome a procedural vote 55-45, but she has vowed to try again during the months-long process of hammering out the annual defense bill.

And Gillibrand said the Sinclair decision underlines why her legislation is needed.

"It's not only the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform, but would also mitigate issues of undue command influence that we have seen in many trials over the last year," she said.

Nancy Parrish, the president of Protect Our Defenders, backed the senator's efforts, calling the Sinclair case "a clear example of why nine out of 10 sexual-assault victims never report their attacks.… This case demonstrates how high-ranking bad, abusive, and even unlawful behavior is tolerated. The level of tolerance is too often dictated by the number of stars you have on your shoulders."

But Sarah Feldman, spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill—whose sexual-assault legislation passed the Senate earlier this month—said that while the Sinclair case is "obviously a complicated one," it also proves that "commanders are often more aggressive than prosecutors in pursuing prosecutions and vetting these cases."

The Missouri Democrat's office has argued that if the case had been handled by prosecutors alone, the rape charge would not have been brought forward.

And although Rep. Mike Turner, the cochair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, doesn't back Gillibrand's legislation, the Ohio Republican said he is "deeply disappointed" and that the Sinclair case is an example of why an increase is needed for mandatory minimum sentences in sexual-assault and sexual-misconduct cases. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.