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By Mike Hellgren

WASHINGTON (WJZ) — A dramatic rise in the number of reported sexual assaults in the military has lawmakers taking action. Some Senators are backing sweeping changes to how those cases are prosecuted.

Mike Hellgren has more.

Those advocating the reforms in Washington say right now, the system is biased against the victims.

Congress is deciding whether to take away the power to prosecute sex crimes from commanders and put it in the hands of an independent team of military prosecutors.

The chief backer is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

“We must remove the conflict of interest in the current system, the system in which commanders can sweep his own crime or the crime of a decorated soldier or friend under the rug,” Gillibrand said.

Lawyer Susan Burke says there’s simply no accountability. She has represented many victims, including the Naval Academy midshipman who drew nationwide attention earlier this year after accusing several members of the Navy football team of raping her.

“The military judicial system is broken and this broken system is not incarcerating sexual predators,” Burke said.

She says commanders wield unchecked authority.

“They get to pick who prosecutes; they get to pick who’s on the jury. If they don’t like the outcome, they can set it aside,” Burke said. “They wire it from the get-go to get the result that they want.”

A new poll reveals six in 10 Americans support removing prosecution decisions from commanders but opponents–including Pentagon leadership–say taking that authority out of the chain of command will undermine military leadership and training lawyers will cost billions of dollars. They back other reforms, including mandatory dismissals for those convicted and stripping commanders of their ability to overturn verdicts.

The number of reported sexual assaults is up by 50 percent in the last year.

The Pentagon estimates there are 26,000 sexual assaults every year, but only around 3,000 are reported.

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