The House Armed Services Committee will vote next week on a defense policy bill that includes multiple provisions on sexual assault in the military. The epidemic of sexual assault across the armed forces was also the subject of a nearly eight-hour hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.
The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, is an annual bill that funds the Pentagon and outlines their budgetary requirements. Drafted and passed by Congress, it is their primary vehicle for reforming military procedure and policy. The 2014 NDAA includes the full language of multiple bills addressing sexual assault, including provisions that strip military commanders of their ability to overturn rape convictions, establish minimum punishments for anyone found guilty of a sex-related crime that include dishonorable discharge or dismissal from service, enhance training for attorneys involved in sex-related cases, and enable military legal counsel to provide legal assistance to victims. The House Armed Services Committee also passed the Ruth Moore Act earlier this week to ensure that survivors of sexual violence in the military can access disability benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Top military officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in opposition to moving responsibility for handling sex crime cases out of the chain of command. Despite the opposition, members of Congress are pushing forward on policy changes with several bills already introduced in the House and Senate. “This is clearly a systemic problem,” Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) said. “Accountability is needed at every level, from everyone.”
Tsongas and Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) wrote many of the provisions in the 2014 NDAA. “The word should go out,” Turner said, “that if you commit a sexual assault in the military, you are out.”
A recent Pentagon report claimed that as many as 26,000 military members were sexually assaulted last year – a 7,000 person increase from 2011’s predicted figure of 19,000. New oversight and assistance programs instated at various levels by the military have been unable to either increase the number of sex crime cases reported or lower the incidence of sex crimes overall. Defense estimates predict that an average of 70 victims are sexually assaulted in the military every day.
Media Resources: Huffington Post 6/6/2013, 6/6/13; US News 6/6/2013