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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 1960, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014; And Providing for Consideration of H.R. 1256, Swap Jurisdiction Certainty Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. EDWARDS. Mr. Speaker, sexual assault in the military continues to be a serious problem. Given both the headlines and the reality, this is an understatement. It impacts thousands of servicemen and -women each year. And while Congress has investigated and discussed this problem for more than two decades, the issue remains pervasive. It's time for us to act. Recent reports that assault is happening by individuals who are supposed to protect and command our servicemembers make this all the more concerning.

According to a recent 2012 Pentagon survey, an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults in the military occurred in that year. That's a 35 percent increase since 2010. It means that roughly 70 servicemen and -women are sexually assaulted every single day. And I know from my own long history and experience of working on these issues that where there are 26,000, there are many, many more. And we know that only a fraction of these incidents are reported; fewer than 3,400 reported incidents every year.

Sexual violence has a longstanding impact on servicemen and -women and their families. According to the Service Women's Action Network, while experiences of sexual violence are strongly associated with a wide range of mental health conditions for men and for women veterans, military sexual trauma is the leading cause of PTSD among women. Due to shame, guilt, or fear of not being believed, fewer than 15 percent of these sexual assaults are reported to the proper authorities.

As a former domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, I understand that coming forward is an unimaginably tough thing to do, and I commend every single one of the men and women who had the courage to come forward and name their accused. Their fear of coming forward is not imagined; it's real. Victims of sexual assault face a lack of confidentiality, protection, support, and access to legal counsel once an incident is reported. This is profound in the military and it has profound consequences.

We have to act and stand together as a Congress and as a Nation to declare that the problem can't go on, and we have to work now to stamp out the violence within the military.

We have to ensure that the Guard and Reserve have response coordinators available at all times regardless of their duty status, and to ensure that each service has a robust investigative team, with clarity and consistency among the services.

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Ms. EDWARDS. Our hope is to ensure that zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military is the norm.

I want to say that some have pointed to a culture issue within the military that contributes to the problem. You know what, that might be true; but we cannot use culture as an excuse. It has to be a challenge and a commitment to change throughout the chain of command.

Some have pointed as well to say that this is just endemic within the military. As somebody who grew up in a servicemember family as one of four daughters, I can't lay this blame on the fact of service. I know that in the civilian sector a relatively small number of perpetrators commit the overwhelming number of crimes. So let's root out the criminals within the military. We have to commit ourselves to making sure that we do that and hold them accountable, hold their commanders accountable, punish people for crime, and stop promoting perpetrators and transferring the problem from one installation to the next installation. This enforceability and accountability has to happen throughout the command structure, no excuses and no exceptions.

It's the service that my father sacrificed for and that millions of others do that we have to honor. We do that by protecting the men and women who serve by saying to them: We want you to serve your country, but we want to make sure that you can do it in safety and that those who are criminals are held accountable.

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