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Kevin Liptak CNN
Published: 13 May 2013

(CNN) -- The way the military has prosecuted sexual assaults within its ranks is deplorable, two congresswomen who have served in the armed forces said Sunday, calling for a new system for reporting those kinds of crimes.

Reps. Tammy Duckworth and Tulsi Gabbard, both Democrats, said last week's report indicating a 30 percent rise in the number of service members anonymously reporting sexual assaults was an indication the military's leadership has failed in its duty to protect members of the armed forces.

"I want the military to be a place where women can succeed and thrive the way I was able to. And the military leadership at this point has shown that they have not been capable of fixing this problem," said Duckworth, who represents Illinois and is an Iraq War veteran.

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," Duckworth argued that individuals in positions of power should be able to halt the problem, but have thus far failed in their attempts to stop sexual abuse.

"The military, because it's built on power and rank, has the ability to fix it based on that same tradition of power and rank. Commanders can put an end to this. And I am very, very disturbed that they have not been able to do this," she told chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Gabbard said establishing a "victim-centered" system was a first step toward improving the way the military handles cases of sexual assault, but added that those who hold power often abuse it.

"We have to make sure we are investigating those who are retaliating and abusing their positions of command or power," Gabbard said. Also an Iraq veteran, Gabbard represents Hawaii.

Both lawmakers said the existing Uniform Code of Military Justice had proven inadequate in handling cases of sexual assault, and suggested instead that a separate structure, still within the military, be used to prosecute those crimes.

"I've been a supporter of the system -- of the UCMJ -- until this point. But this is such an aberration, this is horrendous, it's so unacceptable that this is time to take a next very serious step," Duckworth said.

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