TODAY   |  March 07, 2014

Senate rejects tough stand on military sex assaults

The Senate has voted down a proposed change in the way sexual assault accusations are handled in the military. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> the senate has voted down a change in how sexual assault accusations are handled in the military as two high-profile cases highlighted the growing problem. peter, good morning.

>> good morning. the pentagon announced 5,400 sexual assaults reported last year. that's a 60% increase over the year before. and officials say they think thousands more have gone unreported on the day the senate failed to take action, two more black eyes on the military.

>> reporter: sexual assault , advocates call it an epidemic within the american armed forces . now two more high-profile cases. in court thursday, accused of forcing a subordinate to perform sex acts . sinclair denied any sexual assault but pleaded guilty to lesser charges. the pentagon also reports lieutenant colonel james morris . has himself been suspended. after a lawyer who worked for him accused morris of trying to grope and kiss her in 2011 . no charges have been filed and morris hasn't commented. but an army criminal investigation is underway. all this as lawmakers rejected a bill spearheaded by new york senator kirsten gillibrand . she wanted to move sexual assault cases out of the chain of military command and in the hands of independent prosecutors.

>> we owe so much to them who have so bravely served our country. and i will never quit on them.

>> reporter: military leaders have repeatedly insisted that commanders need more responsibility, not less.

>> removing the convening authority out of the chain of command is absolutely wrong direction to go.

>> reporter: despite the bill's failure, it highlights the growing role of women in congress. 17 of 20 female senators voted for the bill, natalie, senator gillibrand says the effort will not end here.

>> all right. peter alexander at the white house , thanks so much, peter.