The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing on sexual assault in the military. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) both testified. Mother of slain Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, Mary Lauterbach, and an American Red Cross worker who was raped while serving on a U.S. Base in Korea, Ingrid Torres, testified about their personal experiences. Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was absent from the hearing after being ordered by her Pentagon superiors to ignore a congressional subpoena.
The Department of Defense’s Fourth Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military cites 2,688 reported cases of sexual assault by military personnel in fiscal year 2007. Report rates are suspected to be low, and according to the DOD only 8% of those investigated for sexual assault were referred to courts martial. In the civil courts 40% of arrested rape suspects are prosecuted. In her testimony, Rep. Harman described her conversations with victims of sexual assault and physicians at a Veteran Affairs hospital in California, reporting that the doctors told her that 41% of female veterans they had treated were sexually assaulted while in the military and that 29% were raped.
Rep. Harman introduced a bill earlier this week entitled Expressing the sense of the Congress regarding sexual assaults and rape in the military. The bill urges the DOD to create a comprehensive strategy to investigate and prosecute sexual assault in the military and to improve protections for sexual assault victims once assaults are reported. At the hearing, Rep. Slaughter announced her intention to reintroduce The Military Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Act, which would create an Office of Victim Advocates within the DOD, improve counseling programs and confidentiality policies, and standardize the procedures for reporting and prosecuting perpetrators of sexual assault.