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Congress sets forth new measures to curb sexual assaults

Trying to stem the tide of sexual assaults in the military, Congress late last year approved a defense policy bill with three dozen provisions aimed at strengthening the Defense Department's ability to protect victims and increase prosecution of offenders.

The changes include:

ALTERING COMMANDERS' ROLES: Senior officers were stripped of their authority to overturn jury convictions. They also face automatic reviews should they elect not to prosecute a sexual assault case. Commanders are required to immediately refer reports of sex crimes to military criminal investigators.

PROTECTING, EMPOWERING VICTIMS: Victims of sexual assault must be assigned their own independent legal counsel. Retaliating against victims who report a sexual assault is a crime punishable under military law. Commanders may no longer consider the character and service record of those accused of sex crimes when deciding whether to move forward with a case.

GETTING TOUGHER WITH OFFENDERS: A service member convicted of sexual assault must be dishonorably discharged. Commanders are empowered to temporarily reassign or remove from their units service members alleged to have committed a sexual assault. Individuals who have been convicted of serious sexual offenses such as rape and incest are barred from entering military service.