U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) announced today that the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) adopted two bipartisan amendments she offered to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to combat the military's growing sexual assault crisis. Upon the full committee's passage of the defense bill, Fischer released the following statement:
"The sexual assault crisis in our military is simply unacceptable. As I have said all along, this is not a gender issue; it is a violence issue. From attending a White House summit, to questioning top commanders at a landmark sexual assault hearing, I have worked with my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to address this scourge. I am pleased to report that the product of this work is meaningful legislative change that will make a real difference.
"The amendment I cosponsored with Senator Blumenthal directly bolsters the rights of
victims impacted by crimes. Other legislative efforts focus on changing the military's culture or the chain of command. Our amendment empowers victims of sexual assault by ensuring they are aware of their basic rights to be informed, present, and heard at critical stages throughout their ordeal. This is the least the system owes to those it failed to protect.
"I also worked with Senator Shaheen to secure passage of an amendment requiring a higher standard for those appointed to all Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) offices. These SAPR officers are the very individuals charged with ensuring our men and women in uniform are safe from predators in their own ranks. Recent news reports make clear the military is in desperate need of higher caliber individuals in these critical positions."
FISCHER-BLUMENTHAL AMENDMENT: Incorporating the Victims' Bill of Rights into the Manual for Courts Martial
The Armed Services Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment offered by Senator Fischer and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to incorporate the Victims' Bill of Rights, which is currently part of the criminal code, into the Manual for Courts Martial. Currently, the Department of Defense fails to inform victims of their rights to be "reasonably heard at any public proceeding in an Article 32 investigation, court-martial involving a please, presenting hearing and parole." Victims are also not assured of their "right to proceedings from unreasonable delay."
This critical amendment addresses these gaps in the military justice system, which prevent victims from full access and knowledge of legal proceedings. It ensures that victims of sexual assault are not intimidated or subject to violence by the accused. It guarantees the victims' rights to be informed, present, and to speak at legal proceedings, while assuring respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
FISCHER-SHAHEEN AMENDMENT: Increased Scrutiny of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officers
The Armed Services Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment offered by Senator Fischer and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to change the way the Pentagon designates sexual assault prevention officers, adding a new level of accountability and scrutiny to the position after multiple Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) officers were reportedly accused of sexual assault in recent weeks. Under the legislation, SAPR officers would become a more prominent position in the military requiring more rigorous screening and certification for sexual assault officers.
The amendment mirrors legislation introduced by Senators Fischer and Shaheen on May 21, 2013.
Note: The Pentagon recently released a report showing that 26,000 military personnel had been the victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012.