November 21, 2011 — Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced legislation that would restructure how the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault cases, The Hill's "DEFCON Hill" reports.
The bill would remove sexual assault crimes from the typical military chain of command and place them under jurisdiction of a new Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office within the Department of Defense. The office would be staffed by military and civilian experts who would work with military investigators to oversee prosecutions. In addition, the bill would create a DOD sex offender registry that would share information with civilian databases (Herb, "DEFCON Hill," The Hill, 11/17).
Speier said the current process for investigating sexual assault cases in the military is "woefully inadequate" and heavily biased against people who report assaults (Doyle, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 11/17). Under the current system, the decision on whether to pursue a sexual assault case is at the unit commander's discretion. DOD estimates that only 13% of military sexual assaults are reported; in 90% of those cases, the person who reported the assault receives an involuntarily honorable discharged. In 2010, an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military, according to DOD.
"Despite 25 years of task force recommendations, of Pentagon studies, of congressional hearings, rapes and sexual assaults in the military continue unabated," Speier said at a press conference on Thursday. "Men and women who have been sexually assaulted in the military have come to realize that military justice is an oxymoron," she said, adding, "They are forced to live ... in secret, and that leads to a second act of victimization. They suffer while their attackers go unpunished."
Speier did not provide cost estimates for the bill, but said it would be less than providing post-traumatic stress disorder treatment "to a victim for 30 to 40 years (and) the loss of productivity that results, the loss of training when a victim is taken from the services."
Speier noted that the bill attracted 44 co-sponsors "in less than a day" and said she is confident the measure will move forward (Marshall, "The Note," ABC, 11/17). "[T]here's a willingness here to really do something," she said, adding, "I am pretty optimistic that we'll get bipartisan support" (Kinney, San Jose Mercury News, 11/17).