Sen. Claire McCaskill feels so strongly about sexual assault reform in the U.S. armed forces that she is willing to effectively end the career of one of the few women generals in the U.S. Air Force.
In a statement for the Congressional Record, the Missouri Democrat said she will continue to hold up the promotion of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms because of the commander’s handling of a sexual assault case last year.
In February 2012, Helms rejected the recommendation of legal counsel and overturned the conviction of an Air Force captain who had been found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a female lieutenant.
McCaskill’s hold prevents the Senate from approving Helms’ nomination to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command.
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“With her action, Lt. Gen. Helms sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system,” McCaskill said in the statement last week.
Under the existing system of military criminal justice, commanders have the ability to overturn jury convictions. McCaskill has proposed legislation designed to eliminate that power, said John LaBombard, McCaskill’s communications director.
“It’s something that she has found to be not just offensive, but counterproductive and damaging,” LaBombard said.
The senator met with Helms last month to discuss the case and her concerns before deciding to continue her hold on the nomination.
“At a time when the military is facing a crisis of sexual assault,” McCaskill said in the Congressional Record, “making a decision that sends a message which dissuades reporting of sexual assaults, supplants the finding of a jury, contradicts the advice of counsel and further victimizes a survivor of sexual assault is unacceptable.”