Kirsten Gillibrand crusades against military sexual assaults

Watching the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War last year helped U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand decide on her next legislative priority.

The movie shows young women from small towns in Kentucky, Ohio and other parts of Middle America talking about enlisting in the military. Each says she was motivated by a family tradition, the search for a career or both. They have high aspirations.

But those aspirations turn into nightmares. The women also recall shocking incidents of being sexually assaulted — sometimes with bone-crushing violence or a gun held to their head — by fellow soldiers, commanders or training officers.

“That movie was so personally moving to me because it put a face on the crime,” Gillibrand said. “You could see the victims and how their lives were so destroyed.”

In recent days the junior Democrat from New York has received national media attention for the leadership role she’s taking on the issue, appearing on NBC-TV’s Today show, cable TV outlets and doing radio interviews.

Collegial and friendly among her colleagues, especially among other women, she’s also an experienced lawyer who can parlay those relationships with her characteristic persistence and fast-talking persuasiveness to support her latest legislative project. She also has been building a reputation for reaching across party lines to build bipartisan consensus on a range of issues.

Gillibrand’s decision to give sexual assaults in the military more attention from Congress was cemented when she was named chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel earlier this year.

After serving four years in the Senate and just over two years earlier in the House, the post is the first congressional leadership position for the 46-year-old Gillibrand.

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