Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of efforts to fight sexual assault in the military. Sexual assault and rape are violent and horrific crimes, and they must be treated as serious offense, not--as Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia has suggested--as a byproduct of ``hormones.''
According to Pentagon estimates, last year, over 70 service women and men were sexually assaulted every single day. The Department of Defense estimates that 26,000 sexual assaults occurred last year, an increase from the estimated 19,300 assaults in 2010. Yet only a fraction of those crimes are referred to courts martial.
We face an epidemic of sexual assault in the military. Because of a culture of intimidation and retaliation against victims, coupled with the low rate of prosecution and punishment, the vast majority of these crimes go unreported. In some instances, the victim seeks help but opts not to file a formal complaint.
The men and women of the armed services risk their lives to defend our country. Our military is built on the values of trust, discipline, and respect.
Despite growing discussion and awareness of the fact that sexual assault has become entrenched in our military culture, we've seen limited progress toward a solution. That's why I am proud to support provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that make progress toward combating military sexual assault. As currently written, the NDAA strips commanders of their ability to dismiss court martial convictions for serious offenders, and it prohibits commanders from reducing guilty findings for serious offenses. The NDAA requires that servicemembers found guilty of rape or sexual assault be punitively discharged from the military.
Among other provisions, the Defense Authorization bill we're considering today also lays out the rights of victims. It allows them to apply for a permanent change of station or unit transfer, ensuring they are not forced to continue to serve next to their assaulter.
However, I believe we need to go further. I am a cosponsor of Congresswoman Jackie Speier's legislation H.R. 1593, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act. The STOP Act would take the reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the military's normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in the newly-created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.
In addition to the STOP Act, Congresswoman Speier has introduced an amendment--which I am proud to cosponsor--to the Defense Authorization bill taking the decision-making of whether to prosecute out of the chain of command and give discretion to trained prosecutors.
Mr. Speaker, service women and men who survive sexual violence should not have to choose between their careers and justice. They should not be afraid to report crimes perpetrated against them, and they should not face intimidation when seeking treatment and other services. I strongly believe we need to take action now to fundamentally change the way sexual assault is handled in the military by passing legislation to prevent and punish sexual assault and rape.