Congress' effort to address what has been labeled an 'epidemic of sexual assault in the military' manifested itself yesterday in the House of Representatives' unanimous approval of a bill granting protection to whistle-blowers. Sponsored by Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, the bill sets forth the following plan of action: when a service member allegedly experiences retaliation as a direct consequence of reporting an act of sexual assault, the inspector generalmust – not
may – investigate said allegations. At present, the inspector general's office has the discretion to evaluate whether a complaint is worthy of investigation and, if so, the precedence it bears over claims of other natures. Walorski's provision comprises only a portion of the much buzzed-about defense policy bill passed by the House earlier this month, intended to encourage the reporting of crimes and discourage intimidation – whether real or perceived – within the chain of command.
Likely motivated by last month's controversial Pentagon report, lawmakers seem to be making a concerted effort to correct what is believed to be an underreporting of sexual assault in the ranks. Other theories have begun to circulate that perhaps House Republican leaders are supporting Walorski's bill merely in attempt to improve her standing after she secured her congressional seat with less than 1% of the vote. Regardless, it seems that Walorski has been on a mission to increase whistle-blower protection for some time. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on sexual misconduct at San Antonio's Lackland Air Force Base in January, Walorski made her presence known by raising pointed questions on victims' protections and investigative accountability.
As Walorksi' bill advances to the Senate, the freshman congresswoman is urging her colleagues in the Senate to use 'common sense' as they take her first stand-alone bill into further consideration. "Every day our brave service members put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms from foreign threats," she stated. "It is unthinkable that our troops should face the additional and unacceptable threat of sexual assault from within their very own ranks."
While Walorski's provision is included in the aforementioned defense policy bill set for next year, many House members are stressing that its importance is so crucial that it cannot pass fast enough. Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, who cosponsored the bill, insists that "we need it [to pass] today", citing whistle-blower retaliation as the military's biggest problem with respect to sexual assault.
For more information on this military policy reform, speak with a military criminal defense lawyer from Dishman Military Advocates today.