A leading congressional advocate for military victims of sexual assault announced November 17 support for legislation that inteded to improve the response of sexual assault within the military.
“In 2010 the Department of Defense conducted a survey of active duty members which revealed that only a small percentage of the more than 19,000 incidents of rapes and sexual assaults involving service members was actually reported,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D.-Calif.).
Speier said the military has proven incapible of properly prosecuting these crimes.
“For the record, an estimated 13.5 percent of sexual assaults and rapes saw the light day—and only 8 percent of those reports resulted in prosecution—in the end 465 service members were either administratively discharged or punished through the court-martial process —that’s about 2.5 percent of the total suspected acts of sexual assaults and rape,” she said.
The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act—the STOP Act—takes the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the military’s normal chain of command and places jurisdiction in the newly created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts, she said.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D.-Calif.)
The legislation also creates a sexual assault database within DoD that will be required to share information with DoJ civilian sexual offender database, she said.
In conjunction with the introduction of the bill, Speier announced a new website and a documentary film project that gives survivors a chance to be heard and for the public to hear first person accounts of the trauma of rape in the military.
According to Protect our Defenders website, it “seeks to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country. And re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator “
For far too long men and women in the military has been blamed for, punished, or not believed when reporting a rape in the military, she said.
A study conducted by the Military Rape Crisis Center reports over 90 percent of all victims are involuntarily discharged from service while more often than not the assailants are given a slap on the wrist, often promoted or given an Honorable Discharge, she said.
For example, just last week Army Col. Michael Robertson was convicted of on 14 charges, including assault and sexual harassment. He was sentence to 90 days in a military prison and a $30,000 fine. He’ll be eligible for full military benefits, and is not required by the court to register as a sex offender, she said.
A class-action lawsuit against the Department of Defense for failure to take appropriate steps to eliminate a rape culture within the ranks was filed in a Virginia court in February. The lawsuit is currently on hold after the Pentagon held arguments in trying to dismiss the case for reasons that include that rape and sexual assault is “incident to service.”
Even though the DoD previously stated that rape and asexual assault is “incident to service” the Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta expected to prepare orders that make ending this “silent epidemic” a top department priority, but those plans are not yet public.