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February 26th, 2014
06:19 PM ET

Sen. Gillibrand: Military rape, sexual assault survivors see 'horrible rates' of reporting and conviction

(CNN) – Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is trying once more to pass a bill that would take prosecution of sexual assault in the military out of the chain of command, a divisive measure that has opponents and supporters on both sides of the aisle.

Gillibrand's bill was blocked Monday, but survivors of military rape and sexual assault were on Capitol Hill today to support the effort, and to testify at a hearing chaired by the subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I joined the Marines in order to serve my country as an honorable man, instead I was thrown away like a piece of garbage," Lance Corporal Jeremiah J. Arbogast (Ret.), U.S. Marine Corps, testified.

"During the initial training none of us received any training in what to do in a real sexual assault situation. The truth is I had to Google what to do when it happened to me," Jessica Kenyon, former Private First Class, U.S. Army, said.

"To say zero tolerance for 25 years, and have 26,000 sexual assaults and rapes last year alone, and only one out of ten reporting, and only have one out of 100 going to trial and conviction – those are horrible, horrible rates for survivors to know that justice is possible," Gillibrand told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

Nearly 600 in Army disqualified from 'trust' positions after review, official says

Gillibrand argues that military commanders should not have control over whether to move forward in these kinds of cases, and that reporting from victims and punishments for perpetrators will improve if it is taken out of the chain of command.

But an independent panel did not find evidence doing so would increase reporting.

"I have the evidence of most of the victims who have actually filled out a (Department of Defense) survey about why they didn't report," said Gillibrand. "The number one reason given was they didn't think the the chain of command would do anything. And the second reason given was they either feared, or they had witnessed retaliation."

Of the one out of 10 victims that did report, 62% were retaliated against, says the senator.

"If you listen to the survivors of these sexual traumas and sexual assaults, they will tell you what needs to be done is the decision-making has to be taken out of the chain of command in order to create transparency, and accountability, and have that decision-maker be objective," said Gillibrand.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill of Missouri disagrees, and has put forth competing legislation.

"It hasn't worked where it's been tried," McCaskill said in a statement. "Supporters of this alternative cite a number of American allies that have moved to similar systems, but not one of these countries has seen the increase in reporting that proponents promise."

"The reason why she's wrong is our allies didn't have a problem with military sexual assault and a lack of reporting. They changed their systems for civil liberties reasons," said Gillibrand.

The U.K. changed its system because of a murder trial, Israel made changes in 1955, "so obviously, their issue wasn't military sexual assault," says Gillibrand.

'House of Cards' plot line drew on Gillibrand's military sexual assault bill

Gillibrand's cause got some pop culture attention this month in the latest season of Netflix's "House of Cards." Spoiler alert: A fictional bill, which mirrors Gillibrand's, is a major plot point throughout the second season. One scene in the season's second episode plays out like so:

Director of the Joint Staff: Civilian oversight is not the answer.
First Lady Tricia Walker: My husband is a civilian who oversees the military. Are you suggesting that civilians can offer no guidance in matters like this?
Director: Forgive me, Mrs. Walker, I didn't mean to suggest that at all.
Walker: Then maybe you should listen to the civilians sitting across from you.

Gillibrand said the nod from Hollywood doesn't hurt or trivialize her real-life cause.

A popular TV series taking this as their issue "is another vehicle for victims' stories to be heard," Gillibrand said.

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