U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, met today at the Pentagon with Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Major General Gary Patton, Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office; and the vice chiefs of each of the military services to discuss the issue of sexual assault prevention and response in the military.
During the meeting, Senator Collins expressed her view that efforts to reduce sexual assault in the military are imperative until DOD's policy of zero tolerance is matched by a culture of zero tolerance. She raised concerns that service members who are victims of sexual assault will not come forward to report the crime unless they believe that the perpetrator will be prosecuted and that their own military careers will not be harmed.
Senator Collins has been a leading voice in Congress to improve the military's efforts to prevent and respond to military sexual assault. In 2011, she led efforts to pass the Defense STRONG Act. After it became law as a part of the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Senator Collins was recognized by the Service Women's Action Network and awarded the Lauterbach Award for Truth and Justice in 2012. Last year, Senator Collins cosponsored a Senate amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 NDAA to ensure service members convicted of sexual assault were removed from military service.
Senator Collins also has urged the Coast Guard to align its policies with the provisions of the Defense STRONG Act. For example, the Defense STRONG Act ensures that victims of sexual assault can request an expedited transfer away from the geographic location of their assailant and ensures that victims are afforded the right to confidential legal counsel.
"I urge the Coast Guard to implement improved policies and guidelines concerning the prevention of and response to sexual assault," said Senator Collins. "We cannot rest until the policy of zero tolerance becomes the reality of zero tolerance."