This past May, the Pentagon released a survey revealing that 26,000 U.S. military service members had been sexually assaulted within the past year. Since that report, national media, U.S. Senators, and even President Obama have voiced a steady stream of concern over what has been called become known as a sexual assault epidemic and a military crisis.
In the wake of the survey's release, Sen. Mark Begich (D – AK) has made consistent attempts to curb sexual assault in the military. "There are few crimes more insidious or terrifying than service members preying on those who volunteer to wear our nation's military uniform." Begich recently stated. Citing what he describes as "the military's dismal record of preventing and combating" such crimes, Begich announced last week that he aims to restore "the integrity of the military as an institution" by holding criminals accountable. Not only has Begich co-sponsored both the Military Justice Improvement Act and the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, he has also made known his support of the Defense STRONG Act, which protects victims from experiencing retaliation after filing
Also fighting for victim protection, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R – NH) made the media rounds last week to discuss her plan to keep sexual assault prosecution within the chain of command whilst stripping commanders of the authority to overturn verdicts. Ayotte, a former prosecutor herself, supports such reform due to her belief that "the chain of command and commanders [should] take responsibility" as opposed to being "let off the hook for creating the best supportive environment for victims."
Another activist at the forefront of sexual assault reform is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D – NH), who participated in a roundtable discussion last week at the University of New Hampshire. Meeting with community and campus leaders, Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requested input from law enforcement officials, professors, armed services representatives and researchers as to how to reduce and prevent sexual assaults in the military. Shaheen has also submitted related provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act, which advocate the implantation of existing prevention programs with civilian law enforcement methods. By merging both military and civilian techniques, Sheehan hopes to "take advantage of the best practices and lessons that have worked in the civilian sector" by using them to make improvements within the Department of Defense. Shaheen has voiced optimism that her provisions will be enacted when the NDAA comes before Congress later this month.
While a heavy political spotlight is being cast on the issue, many Americans believe the extent to which it is being addressed is unwarranted. Indeed, many argue that the survey, administered to only 22,792 military personnel, defines too wide a scope of what constitutes sexual assault. On the most offensive end of the survey's spectrum: unwanted sexual contact; on the least offensive end: unwanted phone calls. Deeming these statistics misleading, those in opposition to the media frenzy over the Pentagon's report opine that by such standards, one service member asking another on a date could be considered 'sexual assault'.
Regardless of this resistance, it appears that there is no end in sight to the discussion of such reform; the U.S. Senators who have come forth in droves to offer their support have proven that the attempt to protect victims and prevent future assault is largely a bipartisan one. If you have been charged or accused of sexual assault in the military, then take swift legal action today. Contact Dishman Military Advocates to discuss your case.