The Senate Armed Services Committee today approved language offered by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to change the way the Department of Defense 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. The bipartisan measure, which is modeled after standalone legislation that was introduced by Shaheen and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) last month, will be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014.
"We have to take action to address the military sexual assault crisis and we have to do so now," Shaheen said. "If we want ending sexual assault to be a priority then we need to put our best and brightest men and women on the job. Our plan would accomplish that goal by elevating the role of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) officers and adding a heightened level of accountability to this important role in the military."
The Shaheen-Fischer provision was adopted with bipartisan support and specifically mandates that the Department of Defense modifies its selection process by which SAPR positions are selected and assigned. The amendment would ensure that these positions are elevated within the military and that the applicants complete a more thorough screening and interview process for those positions. Currently, many SAPR positions are filled from an available pool of military personnel whose rotation date is close to that of the job opening. As a result, the prerequisites required to fill the positions are not as rigorous.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen has been a leader in fighting the crisis of sexual abuse in our Armed Forces and has worked extensively to provide care and services to victims. Earlier this year, she joined Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to release detailed information regarding the Air Force's decision to overturn an aggravated sexual assault conviction of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson. In response, Secretary Hagel conducted an internal review before announcing he would seek changes to the military's legal process.
In April, the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) honored Shaheen for her work to eliminate discrimination and sexual violence in the military. She has also repeatedly pressed the White House and the Pentagon to act to address the military's sexual assault crisis and has spoken out consistently on the issue, including in an appearance this morning on MSNBC.