Combatting Sexual Assault in the Military
Posted by Kate O'Gorman on August 13
In May, the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reported that there were an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012. Soon after the release of the report, high profile cases underscored the need for dramatic reform in the military’s approach to combating sexual assault. In newspapers and meetings across the country, survivors shared their stories. Americans stood up and said that enough is enough.
Since the spring, there has been vigorous debate, particularly on Capitol Hill and in the military, on what actions to take.
For its part, Congress has responded by including a number of provisions in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a “must pass” piece of legislation. Below are provisions that are included in either the House or Senate versions. The House passed their version of the NDAA earlier this spring, and the Senate will put their version to a vote later this fall. Subsequently, the House and Senate will conference their bills before a final vote.
Protect Survivors from Retaliation:
• Criminalize retaliation against survivors of sexual assault.
• Strengthen protections for whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault.
• Review cases where survivors of sexual assault were discharged to ensure they were not discharged just for reporting sexual assault.
• Allow survivors in Coast Guard to transfer units while their case is examined as allowed in other branches.
Support Sexual Assault Survivors:
• Provide survivors a victim’s counsel to help them navigate the judicial process.
• Require the services to provide Guard and Reservists with access to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) within 2 days of any request.
• Require defense counsel to go through the trial counsel to interview a survivor.
Track and Preserve Evidence of Sexual Assault in the Military:
• Eliminate the 5-year statute of limitations on sexual assault cases.
• Require commanders to immediately report incidents of sexual assault.
• Retain all reports of unwanted sexual contact for 50 years.
• Train all health providers to treat survivors of sexual assault, as well as collect and maintain evidence of sexual assault.
Strengthen the Judicial System:
• Remove the commander’s authority to set aside or change the decision of a court-martial for all serious offenses.
• Require that those convicted of sexual assault are dishonorably discharged.
• Prohibit a decision-maker from using the good service of the accused to decide whether to prosecute a case.
• Examine the impact of removing the authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault from commanders.
• Allow victims to review evidence used in sentencing.
• Require Service-Secretary review of cases where a commander goes against the recommendation of a JAG to not move a case to a court-martial.
Prevent Sexual Assault in the Military:
• Prohibit people convicted of a sexual offense from serving in the military.
• Strengthen sexual assault prevention training and the responsibilities of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
• Prohibit sexual relations between instructors and trainees.
• Define inappropriate behavior and relationships in the Armed Forces.
We hope that Congress will include these important provisions in final legislation sent to the President for his signature.
Yet, there is one more critical step Congress must take. Congress should include Senator Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act in the 2013 NDAA. The amendment would remove the decision to prosecute from a commander and place it in the hands of an experienced military prosecutor. We need the Gillibrand bill to restore faith in the military justice system for the many survivors of military sexual assault.
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