Spotlight: The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act

You may know that Kirsten’s Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA) would overhaul the way in which the military handles sexual assaults and other serious crimes.

But this fight is about protecting civil liberties for all service members, not only survivors of sexual assault and harassment: Black and brown service members are up to 2.6 times more likely to face disciplinary action than their white counterparts.

Today’s Off the Sidelines Spotlight digs into the systemic inequalities that plague the military justice system — and the ways in which MJIIPA would address them and build a military justice system worthy of our service members’ sacrifice.

Every year since 2013, Kirsten has fought to pass the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (MJIIPA), which would establish an independent justice system outside of the accuser and the accused’s chain of command to help better address serious crimes.

Because the fact is, our military justice system is broken.

“Racial and gender biases in the military have resulted in the under-prosecution of sex assault cases and the over-prosecution of Black and brown officers.”

-Rep. Anthony Brown

Today, the military justice system is handled by non-lawyer commanders who have near-universal decision-making authority when it comes to handling serious crimes.

That’s a serious problem.

Under-prosecution in sexual assault cases

When it comes to sexual assault cases, survivors tell us they are less likely to report assault because of distrust of their commanders or fear of retaliation.

And when survivors do report, prosecution rates are extremely low. In FY 2020, only 4.5% of unrestricted reports of sexual assault were tried by court martial, and just 2.8% of offenders were convicted.

Over-prosecution of Black and brown service members

In 2019, the Government Accountability Office found Black and Hispanic service members were more likely than white service members to be subjected to criminal investigations and to face general and special courts-martial.

And according to a 2017 report from Protect Our Defenders, Black service members were substantially more likely than white service members to face military justice or disciplinary action. Take a look at this breakdown of prosecution rates by military branch:

AIR FORCE: From 2006 to 2015, Black airmen were 1.71 times (71%) more likely to face court-martial or non-judicial punishment than white airmen in an average year.

MARINE CORPS: From 2006 to 2015, Black Marines were 1.32 times (32%) more likely to receive a guilty finding at a court-martial or non-judicial punishment proceeding than white Marines in an average year.

NAVY: From 2014 to 2015 (the only complete years provided by the Navy), Black sailors were 1.40 times (40%) more likely to be referred to a special or general court-martial than white sailors.

ARMY: From 2006 to 2015, Black soldiers were 1.61 times (61%) more likely to face general or special court-martial than white soldiers in an average year.

The data is clear: our military justice system is biased against Black and brown service members.

“Congress has now spent more than a billion dollars and enacted hundreds of legislative provisions to address military justice — not one has reduced sexual assault within the ranks, not one has successfully addressed those racial disparities.”

-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

In order to deliver a truly unbiased justice system worthy of the sacrifices our service members make, we must put trained, independent military prosecutors, rather than commanders, in charge of cases of sexual assault and other serious crimes.

MJIIPA has broad, bipartisan support; and, for the first time this year, a filibuster-proof majority of Senators in support of the legislation.

But the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Democrat, and the Ranking Member, a Republican, are blocking the bill from reaching the floor for a vote.

They would prefer to include the legislation as part of a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where these critical reforms could easily be watered down or gutted altogether.

READ | Rep. Anthony Brown’s op-ed in The Washington Post: The Criminal Justice Reform Movement Can’t Ignore the Military

READ | Kirsten’s op-ed in Data for Progress: Voters want lawyers — not commanders — to prosecute sexual assault in the military

LISTEN | This NPR piece explores how the disappearance of Vanessa Guillén helped relaunch a national conversation around sexual assault in the military.

WATCH | This devastating piece from Vice News on Kaylie Harris, who was allegedly raped by a fellow service member months after she came out publicly. More than 40% of sexual assaults in the military are committed against lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

READ | This piece in the New York Times about why Kirsten is fighting to remove all serious crimes — not only sexual assault — from the chain of command.

Our service members put their lives on the line to defend the fundamental American right of “justice for all.” They should not — and cannot — be denied it.

Here’s how you can get involved in the fight to pass this game-changing legislation:

  • Call your members of Congress and ask them to pass military justice reform that includes all serious crimes.
  • Share Rep. Anthony Brown’s op-ed and raise awareness about the ways in which our military justice system is failing Black and brown service members.
  • Use #PassMJIIPA on social media to build support for the bill.