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Proposed Bills Threaten Rights of Sexual Assault, Rape Victims

The US Senate Armed Services Committee may vote as early as tomorrow on two pieces of legislation that could greatly reduce the rights of victims of sexual assault and rape. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Warner (R-VA), and The Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Frist (R-TN), aim to clarify how suspected terrorists should be treated, interrogated, and prosecuted. Groups such as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), however, are concerned that the bills content could significantly redefine sexual crimes such as rape.

Under the Geneva Conventions, which articulate how uniformed prisoners of war should be treated, rape and sexual violence are considered torture; sexual violence and abuse are considered cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and outrages upon personal dignity are considered crimes. Both bills on the Senate floor omit these three principles of the Geneva Conventions, making it difficult to prosecute perpetrators of rape and sexual violence. According to CCR, the definitions of rape in the two proposed bills are inconsistent with definitions in international law and other US law. The definitions also exclude sexual abuse that is not characterized by genital or anal penetration, such as other forms of physical contact and non-physical abuses, like forced nakedness, humiliation, and harassment, which were prevalent in the Abu Ghraib scandal earlier this year.

Media Resources: Center for Constitutional Rights Alert 9/15/06; USA Today 9/17/06; Jurist 9/13/06