Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement welcoming the Response Systems Panel’s initial assessment:

“I welcome the initial assessment of the Response Systems Panel, which reported yesterday there is no evidence to indicate that removing commanders from the disciplinary process for sexual assault cases will reduce instances of sexual violence or increase reporting. The conclusions reached by this independent panel are thoughtful, apolitical, and based on extensive research. I urge my colleagues to reject any proposal that undermines the accountability of commanders by removing them from the disciplinary process. Instead, I hope senators will support the McCaskill-Ayotte-Fischer proposal to strengthen and augment the already historic package of reforms adopted in December to curb military sexual assault.”

The Response Systems Panel was set up as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to examine the military’s response to reports of sexual assault and to make recommendations to improve that response. These findings reject an alternative legislative proposal by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that would strip commanders of their responsibilities in sexual assault cases—and specifically refutes several assertions by proponents of the Gillibrand alternative.

The findings (available online HERE) read, in part:

Based on all information considered to this point, a strong majority of Subcommittee members agrees the evidence does not support a conclusion that removing authority to convene courts-martial from senior commanders will reduce the incidence of sexual assault or increase reporting of sexual assaults in the Armed Forces. Nor does the evidence indicate it will improve the quality of investigations and prosecutions or increase the conviction rate in these cases. Further, the evidence does not support a conclusion that removing such authority will increase confidence among victims of sexual assault about the fairness of the military justice system or reduce their concerns about possible reprisal for making reports of sexual assault. As a result, the Subcommittee’s assessment at this time is that the authority vested in senior commanders to convene courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for sexual assault offenses should not be changed.

The expert panel previously issued findings, based on detailed analysis of U.S. military allies that had removed military commanders from any role in prosecutions, which found that those countries saw no corresponding increase in reporting of military sexual assault. The panel also reported that the reason our allies chose to change their systems was often to strengthen the rights of the accused—not to increase reporting of military sexual assault.    

NOTE: Information on the McCaskill-Ayotte-Fischer amendment is available online HERE