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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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Welcome.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you. Good to be with you.

COSTELLO: It's great.

I must say -- these stats are shocking.

SPEIER: Aren't they? It's more than shocking. I mean, it really is a huge stain on the military and on the U.S. Congress for not having addressed this issue sooner.

COSTELLO: So you're trying to address this. You're going to introduce a bill to try to change the culture or atmosphere in the military. How are you -- how will your bill do that?

SPEIER: My bill provides that rather than report it to your commander, as you are required to do now, you report it to a separate office within the military that will objectively look at the case and determine whether or not to prosecute.

Right now, by reporting to your commander, what happens if your commander is the assailant or the best friend of your assailant? I mean, there is a fear that if you do report, you're not going to be treated fairly. And that if you do report, you will more than likely be discharged from the military, labeled with a personality disorder, and your career is ruined.

So that's why the actual reporting is so low. They don't have faith in the system.

COSTELLO: I'd actually like to think that commanders in the military could handle charges of sexual abuse from their subordinates. Why can't -- I mean, I listened to the reasons you cited. But you would think that most of them would be able to help these victims out.

SPEIER: You know, within the military, it's still unfortunately an old boys network. Oh, she consented. Oh, she wanted it. Oh, she was dressed provocatively. I mean, all of those old lines that were used in the '60s to somehow dismiss rape are still being used in the military.

Lackland Air Force Base -- you have instructors there who after their trainees had completed their work and had been promoted, they were called on the intercom and asked to come and meet with their instructors. Now, they're told when they first enlist that you do anything your instructor tells you to do, even if it doesn't make sense. And then they go ahead and rape these new recruits.

I mean, it is now turning into a scandal in the military, in the Air Force, when we've been told, oh, all these other cases are old. They are happening right now.

And using the chain of command to deal with this problem isn't good enough.

COSTELLO: So why isn't every congressman taking up this cause and trying to put a stop to this?

SPEIER: Well, we do have 120 co-sponsors on the legislation. It is a bipartisan bill. We have organizations like Protect Our Defenders who are trying to gain additional support for this measure. But the truth of the matter is, we've known about this in Congress for 25 years. And nothing has been done about it yet.

Now, to Secretary Panetta's credit, he is saying zero tolerance, we're going to fix this. I think you can't fix it within the chain of command. Unless we increase prosecutions and convictions, we are not going to see the kind of change that needs to take place. The culture will remain the same.

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