Yesterday Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced legislation¬† to strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault in the military. The bill would transfer “the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office.” The Office would be staffed by both civilian and military experts. Moreover, the bill calls for the creation of a sexual assault database, maintained by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the purpose of sharing information with the Department of Justice (DoJ) sex offender database, which contains the names of civilians.

Congresswoman Speier held a press conference today regarding the legislation. She stated, “Despite 25 years of Pentagon studies, task force recommendations and congressional hearings, sexual assaults and rape in the military continue unabated…The failure to respond in a judicial manner to sexual violence, is more than an injustice, it is, according to some of our highest ranked military leaders, a threat to our military readiness. Members of military unites live on, survive on the code of watching out for each other. When sexual assaults and rapes are hushed or ignored, trust in a unit is compromised with its collective readiness to engage the enemy.”

The Pentagon’s “Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” indicated that approximately 3,000 women experienced sexual assault in fiscal year 2008, which is a 9 percent increase from the previous year. For women in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rate of sexual assaults by US military personnel increased by 25 percent.

According to a 2003 study by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, at least one-third of all women veterans have experienced rape or sexual assault during their service primarily from US service personnel, and thirty percent of military women experience domestic violence. Moreover, rape occurs in the military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world. Members of the US House of Representatives, including Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and former Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) have pressed the military to address sexualized violence.

Huffington Post 11/17/11; Statement of Jackie Speier 11/16/11