Washington DC – The House Armed Services Committee today accepted provisions championed by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH), and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) designed to expand legal rights and protections for service members who have been the victims of sexual assault. If signed into law, the provisions would provide victims with the right to legal counsel, the right to a base transfer, the right to maintain confidentiality when speaking with Victim Advocates, and greater training for sexual assault prevention and response at every level of our armed services.
Recent studies have revealed that as many as 1 in 3 women leaving military service report that they have experienced some form of Military Sexual Trauma and by the Pentagon’s own estimate, as few as 13.5% of sexual assaults are reported. Additionally, while 40% of sexual assault allegations in the civilian world are prosecuted, this number is a staggeringly low 8% in the military.
“We ask our men and women in uniform who serve in the military to put their lives on the line for our country, and they shouldn’t fear or experience harm from their fellow soldiers,” said Congresswoman Tsongas. “While the military has made strides to address sexual assault in the ranks, victims still report a lack of confidentiality, protection, support, and access to legal counsel once an incident is reported. My amendments address many of these shortcomings with current DOD policy and I look forward to the day that they become law.”
“Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach of Dayton tragically died because the system did not provide adequate protection to victims of sexual assault. While our most recent efforts to make strides in combating sexual assault in the military have been positive; much work remains. I am glad to be working with Congresswoman Tsongas and my fellow Armed Services Committee members as we seek to preserve and enhance the rights of those affected by sexual assault,” said Congressman Turner.
“I’m pleased to support these amendments, which build on the strong foundation we’ve laid to comprehensively address sexual assault in the military,” said Congresswoman Davis, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “Such crimes are antithetical to values that define military culture: honor, trust, and camaraderie. Sexual assault undermines the moral foundation of our Armed Forces and does irreparable harm to unit cohesion.”
Combined, the Tsongas-Davis-Turner provisions:
- Ensure that victims have access to a military lawyer and maintain their option of confidential reporting even if they seek legal counsel
- Ensure that conversations between victims and Victim Advocates as well as DOD Safe Helpline counselors are confidential and immune from discovery by military lawyers if a case goes to court.
- Provide victims of sexual assault with the right to transfer out of their base or unit,
- Standardize the training of service members, commanders, Victim Advocates, and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators throughout DOD,
- Require service members to receive training around sexual assault prevention and response as they move up in the military structure,
- Require Victim Advocate and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to be full-time positions, and prohibiting DOD contractors from fulfilling those roles, and
- Require DOD to permanently store records relating to sexual assault and providing servicemembers with lifetime access to those records.