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Democrat Jackie Speier introduces military rape bill

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A California congresswoman has launched a campaign to combat military rapes.

Democrat Jackie Speier has been making weekly speeches on the House floor, telling the stories of rape victims in the military. Now she’s introduced a bill that would take rape cases out of the usual military chain of command and transfer investigations, prosecutions, and victim care to an autonomous sexual assault office.

Speier says that when a Marine reported her superior officer had raped her, she was told to take an aspirin and go to bed. "That kind of advice might be good for a headache. But when that’s a prescription by the military to one of its soldiers that has been a victim of an assault or a rape," she says, "we’ve got a problem."

The Department of Defense says there were 19,000 sexual assaults last year in the military. Fewer than 3 percent of the perpetrators were punished. Speier says allowing assaults to go unpunished compromises the effectiveness of the military. "Members of military units survive on the code of watching out for each other. When sexual assaults and rapes are hushed, ignored, or treated lightly, trust in a unit is compromised along with its collective readiness to engage the enemy," Speier said.

Speier’s lined up more than three dozen co-sponsors for the bill. They don’t include the Republican head of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita. His office says “it would be premature to comment” on the bill because it hasn’t been referred to the committee.

Also missing as a co-sponsor is Democrat Loretta Sanchez, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee. Sanchez says sexual assault in the military is "deplorable," but she doesn't believe cases should be removed from the chain of command in the military. She says it would "further take accountability away from the Commanders who should be held fully accountable for the safety and well-being of their units."