U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) today announced that their provisions to help fight sexual assault in the military have passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The provisions would improve tracking and review of sexual assault claims in the military and help ensure victims can get the justice and care they deserve. These provisions are similar to those included in legislation Klobuchar and Snowe introduced last week.
"Our service members should never have to experience the trauma of sexual assault while serving their country, yet thousands of our troops continue to fall victim to these crimes each year. That is simply unacceptable," Klobuchar said."Today's action to advance these provisions is an important step forward in helping to crack down on sexual assault in the military and ensure that victims receive the justice and support they deserve."
"These bipartisan amendments will make great strides in helping to prevent sexual assault in the military, while also providing justice for victims," said Senator Snowe. "Our heroic service members selflessly defend our nation with limitless honor and courage and we in Congress must do our part to ensure they are not the subjects of such horrific crimes."
In recent years there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. According to the Department of Defense, there were 3,192 official reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2011. 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 estimated number of sexual assaults in the military over 19,000 in 2011.
Research has shown that sexual trauma not only hurts the victims, but can also take a toll on their fellow service members by severely undermining unit cohesion, morale, and overall force effectiveness.
The senators' first provision requires forms from restricted reports of sexual assault to be retained, like those of unrestricted reports, for a minimum of 50 years, ensuring that all veterans have long-term, private access to their medical forensic examination records for the purpose of filing VA disability claims and, if permissible under the statute of limitations, pursing criminal action against their perpetrator.
The second provision enhances and expands the Department of Defense's annual report regarding sexual assaults in the military by requiring additional information to be included for each claim, including a justification for the disposition method used in each case and the location and command at which the assault occurred. This provision also requires the Department to provide greater analysis on trends in the occurrence of sexual assault in the military, links between sexual assault and substance-abuse and sexual harassment, and improvements the Department asserts are needed to its own sexual assault programs.
The senators' third provision requires the Department of Defense to establish a coordinated policy to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the military as well as a procedure to facilitate the reporting of sexual harassment and ensure the secure collection and retention of records on the disposition of sexual harassment cases.