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Public Statements

Stop Military Rape

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. SPEIER. Mr. Speaker, I, too, rise to pay my respect and to honor Representative Cleaver.

I am one of those many Members of the House who each week waits for that letter from Congressman Cleaver. In each of these letters, he tells a life lesson, typically one to inspire us to be more hopeful, to be more willing to look at the issue from someone else's perspective, to be more compassionate, to be more loving. So I, too, share in his commitment to making this place a more responsive environment for all, and I thank Mr. Cleaver for his great leadership as the chair of the CBC over the last year.

Mr. Speaker, I now would like to turn to my prepared remarks for this morning. I would like to read you some song lyrics that Air Force Technical Sergeant Jennifer Smith found on her government computer at Shaw Air Force Base. The lyrics of the song are called the ``The S&M Man,'' and they go like this:

Who can take a machete, whack off all her limbs, Throw her in the ocean, and watch her try to swim?

The S&M Man.

Jennifer Smith reported this song and other sexually explicit documents to her superiors in the Air Force. ``The S&M Man'' is offensive, it's hostile, but to her male colleagues and superiors, the song is just tradition, a tradition that is alive and well, celebrated in song, patches, coins, offensive pictures, behavior, and the tacit approval of commanding officers.

A military tradition of demeaning women is not only sickening, but contrary to the fundamental principles of an institution founded in respect and honor and in discipline. It undermines our military's readiness and cohesion. Simply put, it gravely damages the military.

This is the 24th time that I have come to the floor to share the story of a servicemember, either man or woman, who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or harassed by fellow servicemembers. By the Department of Defense's own records and estimates, there are 19,000 rapes and sexual assaults each year in the military, and the VA reports that half a million veterans are affected by military sexual trauma.

Still, fewer than 14 percent of these victims actually report the crimes. And why is that? It is because so few are prosecuted--fewer than 9 percent--and a minuscule number end in conviction.

Air Force Sergeant Jennifer Smith has been subjected to this toxic culture for nearly two decades. She finally had enough. She filed a lawsuit; and in her lawsuit, she chronicles 17 years of abuse and a toxic culture--from 1995 until the present time--a culture that speaks of repulsive and destructive behavior by servicemembers and the tacit approval of their commanders.

Jennifer Smith joined the Air Force 17 years ago, when she was just 18 years of age. Her career has been filled with promotions and with medals and commendations by her commanding officers. She is one of the soldiers whom we so highly regard in the military. She has a record of astonishing accomplishments. In many of the commendations, she has been told that she is a ``gifted mentor'' who ``goes above and beyond'' and to ``promote her now.'' Her career has also been filled with sexual harassment, assaults, and complacency--or worse--from her commanding officers.

During her five deployments in Iraq, Kuwait, Korea, and Germany, Sergeant Smith has endured assault by a master sergeant, who pushed her into a room, dropped his pants, and tried to force himself on her; harassment by a vice commander, who told her to relax and take her top off during a meeting; constant exposure to pornographic material and sexually explicit flight songs; and an attempted rape she was too scared to report.

Sergeant Smith endured sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for 13 years when she decided to speak up. It's time for all of us to speak up. It's time for all of us to expect from the military what we expect from the private sector--no hostile work environment.

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She found pornographic materials in her squadron that included two ``Doofer'' books and magazines that were in her shared office. She reported them, but nothing was done.

Later that year, approximately two months after Technical Sergeant Smith had deployed to Iraq, she was assaulted outside of the gym. A man grabbed her from behind and physically dragged her to a dark place behind the building.

The man pushed her up against the wall and groped her. He had his arm under her neck, lifting her feet off the ground. He said, ``I could kill you right now . . . and no one is going to miss you.''

Technical Sergeant Smith was able to break free, and ran away as fast as she could. She went to work the next day and did not say anything about it because she feared retaliation and harassment.

This is happening now--in January 2012, Technical Sergeant Smith was back from Iraq at Shaw Air Base to manage pilot training. Whenever she checked her computer, she was bombarded with sexually hostile documents and videos. She reported the offensive material. Nothing was done.

In response to news coverage Sergeant Smith's formal complaint, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh ordered a service-wide sweep of workspaces and public areas for images, calendars and other materials that objectify women.

This sweep is inadequate, or worse. It appears to be a response to bad press rather than an aggressive tool to root out and expose this toxic culture.

The sweep which began on Wednesday, December 5th, provides a twelve-day window for it to be completed after a very public notification.

This window and public notification intentionally or unintentionally provides service members the time to hide the content, and the opportunity for commanding officers to not find anything. Why did the Air Force tip off service members that the sweep was taking place? Commanding officers who performed the sweep also had an incentive not to find anything because it would reflect poorly on the command climate they are charged with maintaining.

This sweep also did not include individual desks, cabinet drawers, lockers, or military issued computer hard drives, where much of the content in the Smith complaint was stored.

Describing the need for a sweep, General Welsh explained, ``In my view, all this stuff is connected.

If we're going to get serious about things like sexual assault, we have to get serious about an environment that could lead to sexual harassment. In some ways, this stuff can all be linked.''

I agree with General Welsh. It's time to get serious about sexual assault in the military, but this must include credible and effective oversight actions to counter the culture that permits and fosters systemic harassment, assault, and rape.

And even with effective sweeps, it won't be as easy as taking down a calendar or deleting a computer file. Ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military will require a reboot of the military justice system, and addressing commander influence in these all too common cases. We owe Jennifer Smith and her many colleagues subjected to this gross harassment better. We don't tolerate it in the private sector.


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