Commanders have to be more involved to 'solve anything in the military': Sen. McSally

In an interview with "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, Sen. Martha McSally discusses her proposed legislation to better address how sexual assault is handled in the military.
6:28 | 05/26/19

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Transcript for Commanders have to be more involved to 'solve anything in the military': Sen. McSally
This is personal for me too but it's personal from two perspectives. As a commander who led my airmen into combat and as a survivor of rape and betrayal. I share the disgust of the failures of the military system and many commanders who failed in their responsibilities. Senator Martha mcsally captured America's attention with that powerful testimony about her own experience with sexual assault in the military. Now the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat is taking on a new mission, introducing a bill to change the way the military handles sexual assault, pushing for additional research, establishing a special victim's council at every military installation, and promoting information sharing to better track criminal cases. I sat down with senator mcsally for an exclusive interview. We began with that startling new report showing a 38% increase in military sexual assault since 2016. I have heard commanders and I have heard military leaders say zero tolerance, zero tolerance. This is not going to happen, and it keeps happening. How do you really truly change things when you look at statistics like that? I think we need to take a hard look at what's not working and figure out what is working. What training works for 17 to 24-year-olds in this generation and that's where the prevalence of the crimes, according to the last report, have happened. So part of what I'm putting in this year's defense bill is additional research dollars dedicated to evidence-based solutions as to what works, what's going to work to get through to this generation to change these behaviors and stop these crimes. One of the things you talk about, things that have not worked, and I know critics of your approach to this are saying commanders should not have anything to do with this anymore, that it should be some sort of independent prosecutor. Why are you convinced it has to stay in the chain of command? I think a lot of people don't quite understand the role of our commanders. Having been a commander myself, it's like no other position in civilian life. We tell people to go take lives, maybe to give their own life. We are responsible for every element of their -- everything that they do. If you want to solve anything in the military, you have to have commanders more involved. The problem is that we need more investigators that are highly trained. We need more special victims councils, better data forensics evidence for crimes that are really, really difficult to prove in the first place even when the report is right away. Let's set the process up for the best success. That's the focus of my legislation this year. Senator Duckworth, a veteran as well, she doesn't think that works. She thinks serious crimes should be in the chain of command but not sexual crimes and says it just doesn't work. I respect her opinion and we had many conversations about this issue. I just feel very strongly that commanders need to be responsible. This is again, not just coming as a commander but somebody who's also a military -- Sexual assault victims say it's hard to go to a commander or a commander might like someone else and not prosecute someone they know. It's not the way that works. If the commander is the perpetrator, you can go above or around the commander. There are many relief valves in this process but the problem is not the ultimate decision whether to prosecute or not by the convening authority which is usually a colonel or a general. The problem is that oftentimes the case along the way is taking too long. It's like a cancer rotting in the unit while the case goes on. We don't have the absolute best capabilities for the forensics in order to build a case while having also due process for the accused. I want to talk about your experience if we can, senator. I am also a military sexual assault survivor. Unlike so many brave survivors, I didn't report being sexually assaulted. Like so many women and men, I didn't trust the system at the time. I blame myself. I was ashamed and confused. When you finally did talk to someone, you said it was handled horribly. You felt like you were being raped again. Yeah. You know, for me it took many years for me to even come to terms with what had happened to me and the impact that it had on me and those who were close to me, friends and family and others were well aware in my journey of healing and my journey of not being crushed by it but instead being strengthened by what happened to me and being empowered not just to fight for myself but other women. As I think back, I don't even know if I would have known where to go at the time. So, yeah, I really feel like there was a second very deep failure when I tried to bring this to the attention of others. A lot of times people look at someone like me and I've even had this happen since I revealed what happened to me and they say ignorantly like how could this happen to you? I mean, part of -- one of the reasons why I shared what I did is because I think some people well intended, some in the media by the way since this happened, well intended but extremely naive and ignorant about what a sexual assault survivor looks like. Tell me what it was like the day you did reveal it. What was going through your mind and how you felt after it. I saw that we were having a hearing on military sexual assault and it would include victims on the panel. I decided on Monday night that I was going to share that I was with them. I didn't make that decision lightly but I just felt like I wasn't trying to keep it a secret. Any time, even though I feel like I am as healed as you can be this side of heaven after what I've been through, but any time you churn up the reminders of the traumatic things that you've been through in your life, I mean, I'm human, those are not easy things to open up the door in your heart and mind of what happened to you. I didn't realize it was going to be a little emotional as it was, but there I was on that day. It was -- I'm glad I did it. I don't regret sharing what I shared and it has been an extraordinary journey since We'll be right back with a

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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