WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the first House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing in the 111th Congress, Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) questioned civilian and military experts and practitioners on the effectiveness of advocacy and support efforts for victims of sexual assault in the military. As Chairwoman of the Subcommittee, Davis convened the first in a series of hearings examining how the Department of Defense handles sexual assault cases.
“The incidents of sexual assault and the stories of the lack of support for the victims are unacceptable,” said Davis. “The questions we need to ask are, ‘Has enough been done? What more can we do?’ Our servicemembers deserve better. These hearings will look closely at efforts of prevention of sexual assault in the military, support and advocacy for victims, and the prosecution of cases of sexual assault.”
In addition to victims’ advocates both within and outside the military, the subcommittee heard from Laura Watterson who was sexually assaulted by a fellow service member while on active duty in the Air Force. Watterson gave powerful and emotional testimony about what she had to endure after the assault. In particular, she noted that, while the trauma of her assault was devastating, even more devastating was the way she was treated following the assault.
Getting servicemembers to report such incidents is still a challenge, sometimes due to apprehensions about what follows an assault. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office found that factors that discourage servicemembers from reporting a sexual assault including the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip. In 2007, there were 2,688 reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers. Of those reports, the military completed a total of 1,955 criminal investigations.
“No one can deny our responsibility to ensure that victims of a sexual assault receive all the support that can be provided following an attack,” said Davis. “We must also make sure we are aggressively prosecuting these cases.”