U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced today that key provisions of their bipartisan legislation -- the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act -- are included in the National Defense Authorization Act being considered this week by the full Senate Armed Services Committee. The Murray-Ayotte measure would provide victims of sexual assault in all military branches with a Special Victims' Counsel (SVC), a trained military lawyer to assist the victim throughout the legal process. The bill also includes provisions authored by Senators Murray and Ayotte that enhance responsibilities for the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and provide Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to members of the National Guard and Reserve.
"Our legislation to provide victims with a dedicated legal counsel absolutely gets to the heart of effectively addressing the tragic epidemic of sexual assault in our military," said Senator Murray. "As I told Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey this morning, Congress must act on legislation to give victims the protections they deserve to seek justice, while giving the Pentagon the tools to deal with this growing crisis. I am pleased the Senate Armed Services Committee agrees and has included our legislation to help victims every step of the way through what is a deeply personal and painful process. I want to thank Senator Ayotte for being such an outstanding partner and for all she has done to push this bill forward in committee. While I believe the overall legislation is practical and will make a difference, there will always be more work to do and I am committed to continuing this fight on behalf of our nation's heroes of the past, present and future."
"This is not something that we're going to pass today and then forget about," said Senator Ayotte during today's committee markup of the defense authorization bill. "Because many of us will continue to serve on this committee and we'll expect to understand how this system is working, we'll expect to hear real metrics back as to whether victims can come forward, how many victims are coming forward, and how they are treated within this system. And this will not be the last time the military hears from Congress on this issue."
In a statement endorsing the Murray-Ayotte SVC legislation, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said, "The Air Force Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) pilot program, while very new, has shown positive results and provides a robust support program for victims of sexual assault. Hundreds of victims have availed themselves of SVC services in the Air Force in just the past several months since it was implemented. Many of those victims who initially filed restricted reports of sexual assault decided to change their report to unrestricted, allowing full investigation of the offenses committed by their assailant. As the early reports have been so promising, I expressed in my May 20, 2013, letters to Senators Levin and Inhofe that the proposed SVC legislation had merit. I support providing victims of sexual assault this important resource."
The Murray-Ayotte Combating Military Sexual Assault Act (S.871) takes additional steps aimed at reducing sexual assaults within the military and helping the victims of these crimes. The legislation would address a number of gaps in current law and policy and would build upon the positive steps the Pentagon has taken in recent years to address this problem. The Murray-Ayotte bill currently has 37 bipartisan cosponsors.
The Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013 legislation would:
Provide victims of sexual assault with Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) -- a military lawyer who will assist sexual assault victims throughout the process.
Enhance the responsibilities and authority of DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office so that it can better oversee efforts to combat MSA across the Armed Forces and regularly track and report on a range of MSA statistics, including assault rate, number of cases brought to trial, and compliance with appropriate laws and regulations within each of the individual services.
Refer cases to the general court martial level when sexual assault charges are filed or to the next superior competent authority when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command.
Bar sexual contact between instructors and trainees during and within 30 days of completion of basic training or its equivalent.
Ensure that Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC) are available to members of the National Guard and Reserve at all times and regardless of whether they are operating under Title 10 or Title 32 authority.