Defense Secretary Backs Changes to Military Law on Sexual Assault

When it comes to how the military prosecutes sexual assault, Mr. Austin said Wednesday that he would work with Congress to make the changes, as required by law, noting, “We must treat this as the leadership issue it is.”

His appointed commission recommended the inclusion of a special victims crimes unit in an independent prosecution system, which would also cover domestic violence. But the commission did not propose dealing with other serious crimes through the independent prosecution system, as would the proposal by Ms. Gillibrand and one introduced Wednesday by Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California.

“Senator Gillibrand and I have dedicated the better part of the last decade to right this wrong,” Ms. Speier said. “I first introduced legislation on this topic Nov. 11, 2011 — 10 years ago. The proposal was dismissed and attacked, and so was I. But the voices of the victims and the survivors could no longer be silenced.”

This week, several military service chiefs expressed resistance to the measure, teeing up a potential legislative battle that Mr. Biden, who has voiced support for Ms. Gillibrand’s efforts, is likely to end up having to weigh in on.

The congressional bills, “would seem to lengthen the process, limit flexibility, and potentially reduce confidence among victims,” Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a letter released by Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and a leading opponent of the Senate bill. “It is unclear to me whether or not the bill would promote the interests of justice by increasing accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, supports Ms. Gillibrand’s measure and may bypass the Senate Armed Services Committee, where it is opposed, at least in part, by both of its leaders.

On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi, flanked by Ms. Speier, Ms. Gillibrand and members from both parties, some of whom choked up as they spoke about victims of assault, said her legislation would be taken up soon.

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