Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced bipartisan legislation to assist victims of sexual trauma in the military. The Support for Survivors Act would assist servicemembers who were victims of sexual trauma during their military service by requiring the Department of Defense to ensure life-long storage of all documents connected with reports of sexual assaults and sexual harassment across the military branches. The legislation would also prevent the military from destroying any records relating to sexual assault.
"We need to support the men and women who have served our nation fearlessly," Klobuchar said. "Instead of destroying these records, we should be making sure that consistent records are kept across all military branches. By simply helping preserve their personal records, we can make sure our veterans have the care they need while supporting justice for assault victims."
"Servicemen and women who have been the victims of sexual trauma in the military deserve the very best in care and treatment by the Department of Defense and the VA," Collins said. "This bill will ensure servicemembers have the access to the necessary evidence of sexual trauma when later seeking treatment or compensation with the VA. In doing so, we can provide an additional measure of protection to ensure their health and well being following such a traumatic experience."
"With the passage of the Women Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act in 2010, Congress told the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration to get tough about protecting the victims of Military Sexual Trauma," Murkowski said. "This landmark bill will ensure that the documentary evidence of Military Sexual Trauma is preserved to protect the right of Military Sexual Trauma victims to get the care to which they are entitled and to hold the Defense Department accountable for their obligation to eliminate Military Sexual Trauma incidents in the Armed Forces."
"The men and women in our military put their lives on the line for our country and they deserve to know that the military is looking out for them in their time of need. Too often victims of sexual assault don't report the crime because they are afraid of retribution or that nothing will be done. We must do better. This legislation will provide victims with the tools they need to seek justice and guarantee them the confidentiality they deserve throughout the process," McCaskill said.
Currently, there is no coordinated policy across the service branches to ensure the preservation of medical and other reports connected with sexual trauma. Each service branch has been left to develop its own policy, resulting in inconsistent recordkeeping and records often being destroyed. Long-term preservation of records currently helps a victim pursue legal action and records can also be used as evidence in a later crime involving the same perpetrator.
In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. According to the Department of Defense, there were 3,158 official reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2010. Because most incidents are not reported to a military authority, the Pentagon estimates this number represents only 13 to 14 percent of total assaults -- making the total actual number of sexual assaults in the military nearly 20,000 in 2010.
Research has shown that sexual trauma not only hurts the victims, but can also take a toll on their fellow servicemembers by severely undermining military cohesion, morale, and overall force effectiveness.
The Support for Survivors Act would:
* Require the Department of Defense to ensure the preservation of documents connected with reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.
* Ensure full privacy and identity protection for both the victim and the perpetrator, if known.
* Ensure life-long access by the servicemember to his or her personal documents.
* Grant the VA access to documents only at the request of a servicemember, for the purpose of assisting with the processing of a disability compensation claim.
* Allow the Department of Defense to review the data (but not the names of the individuals mentioned in the reports) to improve research and reporting.