Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
December 19, 2013  
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer Statement on Reforms to Article 32 Proceedings in Defense Bill  

Boxer-Graham Measure Will Protect Military Sexual Assault Victims From Abusive and Invasive Questioning During Pre-Trial Proceedings

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today issued the following statement on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA), which included her bipartisan amendment to reform Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to help protect victims of sexual assault from abusive treatment during pre-trial proceedings.  

For more on the Senator’s bipartisan legislation, which was also sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), click here.  

In the statement, Senator Boxer also expressed her strong support for passing the Military Justice Improvement Act when the Senate returns next year. 

The full text of the statement follows:  

I am so pleased that this bill includes important reforms to Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which are based on an amendment I authored with Senator Graham. 

I want to thank Senator Graham for working with me on this issue. I also want to thank Chairman Levin and Ranking Member Inhofe for working so closely with us. Without their support, these critical reforms would not have been incorporated into this bill.  

These reforms will help end the abusive and invasive questioning of sexual assault victims during pre-trial Article 32 proceedings. 

Article 32 proceedings are the military’s equivalent of preliminary hearings in the civilian criminal justice system. However, Article 32 proceedings have become their own trials—where the defense counsel can harass and intimidate sexual assault victims and ask questions that would never be permitted in civilian courts.  

No victim should ever have to endure this type of abuse.  

Our military justice system should encourage sexual assault victims to report these crimes and pursue justice by prosecuting perpetrators. Tragically, the Article 32 process does just the opposite. 

Roger Canaff—a former prosecutor who has worked with the military as a legal consultant on sexual assault cases—says that Article 32 proceedings are so difficult for victims that “a lot of cases die there as a result.”  

And in fact, the military’s own statistics show that nearly 30 percent of sexual assault victims who originally agree to help prosecute their alleged offenders change their minds before trial.  

The National Defense Authorization Act addresses this serious problem by bringing Article 32 proceedings more in line with how preliminary hearings are conducted in the civilian criminal justice system.  

Specifically, the bill:  

• Limits the scope of Article 32 proceedings to the question of probable cause. This will help ensure that Article 32 proceedings do not turn into fishing expeditions that serve only to discredit and humiliate victims. 

• Requires Article 32 proceedings to be presided over by an impartial military lawyer, except in extraordinary circumstances.

• Requires all Article 32 proceedings to be recorded—putting in place a uniform standard across all of the services. It also gives victims access to the recording.  

• Prevents victims from being forced to testify in Article 32 proceedings. Instead, alternative forms of testimony including sworn statements could be used. This will ensure that victims are not re-victimized during Article 32 proceedings.  

These commonsense reforms will ensure that victims of sexual assault are not put on trial simply for making the courageous decision to pursue justice. And this change has broad support from survivors, military leaders and military law experts.  

Karalen Morthole—who was raped by a Master Sergeant at a bar on the grounds of the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC—supports reforming the Article 32 process: “People always say, ‘This is why so many people don’t come forward.’ I agree. The process should be changed so survivors of rape feel confident rather than discouraged when trying to pursue justice.”  

Major General Vaughn Ary—the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps—agrees that “there is room for change in Article 32.” 

In addition, Eugene Fidell—a professor of military justice at Yale Law School and a former Coast Guard judge advocate—has said that Article 32 proceedings have “become bloated” and “should be replaced by a simple probable cause hearing.” 

I am so pleased that there is a clear consensus on the need to reform the Article 32 process to better protect victims of sexual assault. This is an important step forward in addressing the epidemic of military sexual assault.  

But let me be clear, there is only one fundamental change that will give sexual assault survivors the confidence to report these heinous crimes knowing that justice will be served—the bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act. 

I am deeply disappointed that this important bill was not included in the National Defense Authorization Act, because until vicious crimes like sexual assault are handled outside the chain of command, we will not have truly fixed our broken military justice system.  

That is why I look forward to proudly casting my vote in support of Senator Gillibrand’s bill in January, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.