Ben Klay, a former Marine who served in Iraq, spoke at a Washington news conference with a bipartisan group of senators vowing to press ahead with an effort to put the power to conduct criminal proceedings in military sexual-assaults cases in the hands of independent military prosecutors instead of the military chain of command.
Such a move "will enhance our military readiness," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told reporters, flanked by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and five other senators.
"This proposal will strengthen morale," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
The lawmakers said they were among 46 senators who so far supported the measure, but they said they could need more than 51 votes to win passage.
Amendments directly related to military policy are typically allowed to pass by a simple majority.
But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters this week the measure was controversial, so it would probably require at least 60 votes to pass.
The final decision rests with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Aides told The Washington Post Reid had not yet decided how many votes would be required.
Even if Reid decides the proposal needs only 51 votes to pass, several GOP senators have said they may oppose the measure with a filibuster.
The Pentagon is against the measure, saying sexual-assault prosecutions must stay with military commanders to maintain good order and discipline.
"Critics say moving these decisions out of the chain of command will diminish good order and discipline," Gillibrand said.
"Well I have news for you -- with 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rape and unwanted sexual contact last year alone, we don't have the good order and discipline that our military needs," she said.
The Defense Department reported in May as many as 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted last year, up 37 percent from 2011's 19,000.
Gillibrand told reporters Wednesday there was "zero accountability" in the ranks for dealing with assault and rape allegations, despite two decades of assurances the military had a "zero tolerance" for such crimes.
The Gillibrand-led proposal is expected to be introduced as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill. Debate on that bill is expected to start the week after next.
"We need a few more Republicans," Paul told the National Journal magazine after the news conference.
"I've got a list of Republicans I'm talking to," he said. "We need probably eight more Republicans and a few more Democrats. But I think there is a lot of momentum."
Klay told reporters after his wife, Ariana Klay, a former Marine officer and Iraq War veteran, reported she was assaulted while serving at the Marine Barracks in Washington, her commander wrote "she deserved ill-treatment for wearing running shorts and makeup."
Klay said the command-appointed investigator "compared rape to prostitution or marrying a rich man."
Ariana Klay faced a year of retaliation after filing a complaint before her accused rapists' trial, in which she endured 15 hours of "degrading testimony" on the witness stand, Ben Klay said.
The prosecution's closing statement included a Marine officer reading the definitions of offensive, sexually degrading terms for women, Klay said.
"When I finally got to testify, not a single question was asked that would have helped prosecute," he told reporters. "Not a single question about the day of the assault or its effects on my wife. When I asked why, I was told that would be distracting to the court."
Klay said the U.S. military was "not organized to address sexual assault" and the law should not force military commanders to deal with that responsibility.
"It gives commanders who do not have an interest in proving the worst failures of their command the authority to decide whether those failures happened. They cannot be impartial, nor can those who work for them," he said.
"Even an alleged terrorist on U.S. soil has greater legal protection than a U.S. Marine," Klay said, his voice breaking as he discussed his wife's case.