Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) yesterday reiterated her call for action to address the growing epidemic of sexual assault in the military. During a speech on the House floor, Kuster highlighted the story of Judy Atwood-Bell, a Hudson, New Hampshire resident and veteran who enlisted in the Army at age 17 and was raped by a fellow soldier when she was just 19 years old.
"Sexual assault in the military has reached a crisis point. A recent report from the DOD found that the number of service members who have experienced unwanted sexual contact has increased by more than 30% over the past two years -- from 19,000 to 26,000 people," Kuster said. "These numbers are staggering -- but they're more than just statistics. Behind every number is the story of a member of our armed services who stepped forward to serve our country."
"They're people like Judy Atwood-Bell, a Hudson, New Hampshire resident who enlisted in the Army at age 17 to further her education and live the American dream," Kuster continued. "At 19, Judy was raped by a fellow solider, and suffered sexual harassment in silence throughout her career. After 20 years of service, she sought help and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD related to military sexual trauma. Our military leadership, the chain of command, and the VA failed to protect Judy and thousands of victims like her who suffered sexual assault. We owe it to Judy--and every other survivor--to come together in a bipartisan manner to confront this epidemic head-on."
Judy joined the US Army in 1978 at the age of 17. When she was 19 years old, she was raped by a fellow soldier and suffered sexual harassment throughout her career, which included 10 years in active duty and an additional 10 years in the reserves. Since then, Judy has become an advocate for action to help change the way the military deals with sexual assault.
A member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Kuster has repeatedly spoken about the need for action to prevent military sexual trauma, and has cosponsored the following legislation to help address this ongoing epidemic:
Military Whistleblower Protection Bill (Rep. Jackie Walorski R-IN and Rep. Loretta Sanchez D-CA): amends existing law to clearly elucidate that victims of sexual assault cannot be retaliated against for reporting sexual violence and misconduct.
Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013 (BE SAFE ACT) (Rep. Niki Tsongas D-MA and Mike Turner R-OH): removes the convening authority's ability to change or dismiss an adjudged court-martial conviction for any charge or specification except in the case of minor offenses.
The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act) (Rep. Jackie Speier D-CA): takes the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and places jurisdiction in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office within the military.
Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013 (Rep. Tim Ryan D-OH): provides a Special Victim Counsel (SVC) for victims of sexual assault, expands responsibilities for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Offices (SAPRO's), requires a convening authority to provide a written justification any time he or she changes the sentence or the finding, and removes the ability of the convening authority to set aside or reduce a finding of guilty, except for minor offenses.
Military Judicial Reform Act (Rep. Jackie Speier D-CA): takes away the authority of the convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.
Ruth Moore Act (Rep. Chellie Pingree D-ME): pushes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve benefits for survivors of sexual trauma in the military. The Ruth Moore Act requires the VA to report to Congress on every veteran who has applied for benefits or been treated at a VA facility as a result of MST.