HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill supported by Hawaii's entire Congressional delegation has been weakened to the point of futility – that's according to the filmmaker who blew the whistle on the military sexual assault epidemic.
Advocates say the Military Justice Improvement Act, as it was originally written, could have made a drastic difference in the number of military sexual assaults, but the versions that now exist are so watered down they can no longer effect change.
The Military Justice Improvement Act would have stripped commanders of the power to prosecute sexual assaults and given that authority to military lawyers instead.
"That is the only piece of legislation that will significantly address the root of this problem and will reduce these numbers," said Amy Ziering, the producer of "The Invisible War". The documentary was released last year and broke one of the biggest military sex scandals ever, by calling attention to rampant sex assault in the Armed Forces.
"Statistics are 26,000 [military sex assaults] a year, which means 70 of our service members are assaulted daily on U.S. soil – that's not abroad – that's domestic soldier-on-soldier violence, that's not being prosecuted," said Ziering.
Ziering says it was a huge accomplishment for the film when she learned the Joint Chiefs of Staff viewed the documentary at the Pentagon, but she was frustrated to learn later on Capitol Hill they urged Congress not to remove commanders from decision-making.
"That's absolutely critical and absolutely vital and that has to happen," explained Ziering.
During a Congressional hearing last week, Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, "Our goal should be to make the commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis."
Later, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, "I don't personally believe that you can eliminate the command structure from this process."
But Ziering says troops don't have access to an impartial system of justice and never will if commanders are allowed to decide whether cases are investigated or punished, because it's usually a higher-ranking service member who's accused of sexual assault.
"You cannot get access to an impartial system of justice -- which is why these serial predators can continue to be able to inflict their crimes without any type of repercussions and with no type of any kind of prosecution and that's why we have this rampant epidemic in our military. So, until we take it outside the chain of command and have impartial adjudicators of these crimes prosecute these perpetrators, we will not see an end to this epidemic," explained Ziering.
Ziering says U.S. allies already have a similar policy in place and it hasn't created any chaos, but has lead to an increase in reporting and successful prosecutions of military sex assaults. She says the legislation is needed to protect those who protect our country and preserve our national security.
"When the military takes these things on with serious conviction and purpose the way it takes on our enemies abroad – if it can take on the enemies within, we can really have a stronger military," said Ziering.
Currently, neither the Senate nor House versions of the Military Justice Improvement Act would remove the military chain of command from deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases. The House version calls for a minimum of two years in jail and a dishonorable discharge for anyone convicted of sexual assault. The Senate version would require each branch to prove military first responders are trained to assist sex assault victims.
For more information on the Academy-award nominated documentary, "The Invisible War". Log on to their website: www.notinvisible.org