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Congress introduces Vanessa Guillen bill to remove sex assault prosecution decisions from military chain-of-command

"...members who have suffered in silence because the message in the military has been clear: shut up, suck it up and don't rock the boat," Congresswoman Speier said.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Congressman Mike Turner introduced The Vanessa Guillen Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (Vanessa Guillen MJIIPA), their bipartisan, bicameral bill that seeks to remove sexual assault prosecution decisions from the military chain of command.

"We are here today because each year, 20,000 service members are sexually assaulted and another 100,000 are sexually harassed," Speier said as part of her opening remarks.

As it stands now, commanders who do not have legal training make the decision to prosecute a servicemember for major crimes, such as murder and rape, under the military justice system.

According to Speier's office, The Vanessa Guillen MJIIPA would transfer that responsibility to military attorneys with "significant trial experience, offering victims and their loved ones the confidence that a professional military prosecutor who is independent—outside of the chain of command of the victim and the alleged perpetrator—is making crucial decisions on whether to pursue trial."

Click here to watch the full news conference.

Under the bill, commanders would still be able to prosecute servicemembers for military-specific offenses, such as desertion and for crimes with maximum punishment of less than one year of confinement. 

Speier said at the news conference Wednesday only one-third of those sexually assaulted feel comfortable reporting it from fear of retaliation. Speier also said only 1 percent of those sexually harassed feel comfortable reporting it and that, she said, is unacceptable.

"We are here for those that have spoken out and for those military members who have suffered in silence because the message in the military has been clear: 'shut up, suck it up and don't rock the boat,'" Speier said emphatically into the microphone.

Speier was flanked by supporters of the bill, including Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia from Houston, Guillen's hometown, and spoke about the Uniform Code of Military Justice, its creation and how Congress can amend changes to it.

Turner, a Republican from Ohio, said what is happening in the military affects everyone.

"Today, we do what all of America calls for and wants," said Turner. "This is a bipartisan, bicameral press conference on a bipartisan and bicameral solution to a tragedy we see all too frequently in our military that effects our men and women in uniform."

"The UCMJ is a creation of Congress and we have the right and responsibility to amend it when it fails to deliver justice and that's why we are here today," Speier said.

A version of The Vanessa Guillen MJIIPA has been in the works, Speier said, for almost a decade. She said she first authored legislation on it back in November 2011, but it got nowhere.

"The proposal was dismissed and attacked and so was I," Speier said. "The voices of the victims and the survivors could no longer be silenced and the heinous murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen was the tipping point. Senator Gillibrand and I, along with our coleads come together today with one voice one plan  -- to save service members from the fates of Spc. Guillen, Pfc. Asia Graham, Airman 1st Class Natasha Aposhian and so many others like them."

Speier said it took their brutal killings to wake Congress and the military up and it was her visit to Fort Hood last summer that will forever be engrained in her memory.

House coleads, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were also in attendance.