Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) tonight applauded their colleagues for strengthening protections for sexual assault victims in the military.
The bipartisan Senators' Defense Sexual Trauma Response Oversight and Good Governance Act, or Defense STRONG Act, passed the Senate this evening as part of the Department of Defense Reauthorization Bill. The bill passed by a vote of 93 to 7.
"Sexual assault has no place in our society, and when its victims are Americans who put their lives on the line in defense of our country, it's particularly appalling," said Sen. Kerry. "As a prosecutor, I saw with my own eyes the ravages of sexual assault on its victims, and the number of cases that go unreported or unprosecuted in the military is just staggering. It's our duty to end this cycle of senseless violence and act swiftly to protect victims, and I'm grateful to Senator Collins for partnering with me to take a strong step in that direction."
"This will help ensure that many of the recommendations made by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military are enacted to truly build a culture of zero-tolerance towards sexual assault," said Sen. Collins. "If we provide the legal protections for victims and their advocates, and if we guarantee support for the victims of sexual assault, we can take the fragile and reversible gains in the fight against military sexual trauma and turn them into sustainable and irreversible progress."
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives.
While one in six women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime, as many as one in three women leaving military service report that they have experienced some form of sexual trauma while serving in the military. And while 40 percent of sexual assault allegations in civilian life are prosecuted, this number in the military is a staggeringly low eight percent. Many of these victims are attacked by fellow servicemembers and then must live and work alongside them. The Defense STRONG Act takes strong steps to protect victims, ensure legal protections, and strengthen confidentiality measures to encourage military men and women who are attacked to come forward.
The Defense STRONG Act will:
ensure that victims have access to a legal assistance;
maintain victims' option of confidential reporting, even if they seek legal counsel;
ensure that conversations between victims and Victim Advocates are confidential and immune from discovery by military lawyers should a case go to court;
provide sexual assault victims with expedited consideration for a base transfer, should they request it;
increase the rank of the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office to a flag officer or SES position;
require the Secretary of each military department to determine the appropriate number of Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates to assign to each military unit;
require updates to the Manual for Courts-Martial within 60 days to protect privileged communication between the victim and SARC/VA; and
ensure Victim Advocates and SARCs are trained and full-time service members or Department of Defense civilians.