Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center

Zonta International is a global organization of individuals dedicated to empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. The Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center is a tool for our members in the United States and other individuals who share our commitment to gender equality to take action to improve the lives of women and girls. With your help, we can make a difference. In addition to the actions below, click here to support our joint efforts with UNICEF USA to end child marriage in the United States.

Support justice for survivors of sexual assault in the military
One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, the most recent year data has been published by the Department of Defense (DoD). Despite repeated efforts to end the scourge of sexual harassment and assault in the military, the DoD’s report estimates almost 21,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2018.

The bipartisan Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, S. 1520, would professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. It also provides for several new prevention provisions such as increased and improved training for commanders and additional physical security measures, while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and maintain a successful command climate.

The bipartisan Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, H.R. 4104, is named after Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered at Fort Hood in April 2020 after she was sexually harassed by her supervisor. Her command knew about the harassment and did nothing to stop or address it. 

The bipartisan military justice reform bill would take critical steps to create a more professional and transparent military justice system for serious crimes—including rape and sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography, and negligent homicide—and address the need for sexual assault prevention that the DoD has not implemented. Specifically, the legislation would: 

  • Move the decision on whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained and professional military prosecutors, while leaving misdemeanors and uniquely military crimes within the chain of command. By moving this work off the commander’s plate, it will empower commanders to focus on mission-critical activities—while specifically preserving the authorities that a commander needs to provide strong leadership and a successful command climate.
  • Ensure the DoD supports criminal investigators and military prosecutors through the development of unique skills needed to properly handle investigations and cases related to sexual assault and domestic violence.
  • Require the Secretary of Defense to survey and improve the physical security of military installations–including locks, security cameras and other passive security measures–to increase safety in lodging and living spaces for service members.
  • Increase and improve training and education on military sexual assault throughout our armed services. This training would help shift the culture in the military and ensure that the armed services can enforce a no-tolerance zone for sexual assault and other grievous crimes.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY] first introduced the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013 and has worked on it shoulder-to-shoulder with Senator Chuck Grassley [R-IA] for years. However, since the initial introduction, unrestricted reports of sexual assaults in the military have doubled, while the rate of prosecution and conviction has been halved.

Sen. Gillibrand introduced the new Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act to the Senate on April 29, 2021. In July 2021, the Senate Armed Service Committee announced that it had put forth its annual defense bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, and it included the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act of 2021. A companion bill, the Vanessa Guillén Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (H.R. 4104), was introduced in the House in June by Representative Jackie Speier [D-CA]. Please use our pre-drafted letter to urge your senator to co-sponsor and support S. 1520 and H.R. 4104. If they have already sponsored or co-sponsored the bill, you can send a message of thanks.

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