Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, citing the case of a West Point sergeant accused of secretly filming and photographing female cadets showering, Thursday called for new regulations letting personnel in the armed forces report sexual assaults directly to military prosecutors.
"These allegations coming to light over and over and over again, just continue to undermine our confidence that the military can actually address these problems," she said on the "Today" show. "What we need is better transparency and accountability. We need victims to know that justice is possible."
Gillibrand, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said such cases need to be removed from the chain of command, noting that the sergeant accused in the West Point case, a 23-year military veteran, was responsible for overseeing the cadets.
Gillibrand's comments came after the House Armed Services Committee agreed to strip commanding officers of authority to unilaterally change or dismiss court-martial convictions in rape and assault cases.
That measure would be folded into a broader defense policy bill that the full House will consider in the coming weeks and would impose harsher penalties on service members found guilty of sexual offenses by requiring that they be dismissed or dishonorably discharged.
A Pentagon report released earlier this month showed that the number of sexual assaults reported by members of the military rose 6 percent from 2011 to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be as high as 26,000.
In the U.S. Military Academy case, West Point spokesman George Wright said Wednesday that a 15-month investigation, which started in March 2012, found that Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClendon secretly filmed and photographed "at least a dozen" female cadets.
McClendon has been pulled from his job at West Point, where he led a company of 121 cadets, and placed on administrative duty as the investigation continues.
"He was given a no-contact-with-cadets order, and he was barred from entering the cadet area," Wright said.
On March 14, McClendon was transferred to Fort Drum in Jefferson County, and on May 14 he was formally charged under military law, officials said.
McClendon is a decorated combat engineer who has served in Iraq and earned a Bronze Star Medal, in addition to other citations, according to the military.
The charges against him include dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and conduct that is prejudicial to good order and discipline, according to the military.
The next step is an Article 32 hearing, in which a commissioned officer will determine if there is significant evidence against McClendon for a military trial, similar to the civilian process of a grand jury.
If convicted, McClendon could be dishonorably discharged and forced to forfeit pay and allowances. The two most serious charges -- indecent act and "conduct that is prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces" -- each carries a maximum penalty of up to 5 years' confinement, while the maximum penalty for the cruelty charge is a year in confinement, and 2 years in confinement for the dereliction-of-duty charge.