Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee, introduced provisions to the National Defense Authorization to address the issue of sexual assault in the military late last week. If passed, the bill would create confidentiality policies for victims of sexual assault, increase trainings on sexual assault, and create an easier process for sexual assault victims and offenders to be relocated from their current base.
Representative Slaughter explained, “As America fights two wars, our women and men in battle can be worlds away and if they find themselves the victims of sexual assault, in theatre or at home, it must be recognized and the assailant must be brought to justice. Sadly this is almost never the reality. We have a duty to protect our men and women in uniform from the tragedy that is sexual assault in the military.”
Anu Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and a former military Marine Corps Captain, clarified, “Provisions in this bill would protect services members who experience sexual assault by providing for confidential communications between victims and their advocates, expedited humanitarian transfers and reassignments so victims aren’t forced to work alongside or even share living quarters with their rapists, and a hotline for service members to report rapes or suspected rapes.”
In February, attorney Susan Burke filed a lawsuit in the Eastern Virginia federal court against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for failing to prevent, investigate, and prosecute the sexual assault and rape of the 17 plaintiffs. The plaintiffs in the case are veteran and active-duty service members from the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Reserves who were sexually assaulted, raped, or harassed by active duty military members. Burke stated in Ms. magazine’s Spring 2010 article by Natalie Wilson, “Culture of Rape,” “You shouldn’t have to be raped in order to sign up and serve your country.”
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, 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 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, working on task forces and proposing legislation.