Representative Jackie Speier has introduced legislation that is aimed at mitigating or even ending the conflict of interest issues relating to sexual assault investigation in the military. The bill already has 44 cosponsors. SWAN representatives traveled to Washington DC for the announcement. It will create an independent oversight office to investigate allegations of sexual assault.
Greg Jacob, policy director for SWAN, stated that “This groundbreaking legislation presents a positive solution to what has become a crisis of command within the military. The STOP Act is based on the judicial reforms already undertaken years ago by our Allies in the UK, Canada and Australia. By appointing a Director of Military Prosecutions, the bill addresses the inherent conflicts of interest in the immediate chain of command prosecuting their subordinates, and takes the onerous burden of determining case dispositions off the desk of commanders who can then focus 100% on accomplishing their unit’s mission. The STOP Act also provides oversight of military court decisions to ensure that the punishments given fit the crime. Recently an Army commander was convicted of 14 counts of sexual harassment and assault. He was sentenced by a military judge to only 90 days in jail. Had The STOP Act been law, such an injustice would not have occurred.”
Their press release went on to explain:
Known as the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act – or STOP Act – the bill will take the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the perpetrator’s chain of command and place jurisdiction in a newly created, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.
Rep. Speier has been a vocal advocate for military reform the past several months, sharing the personal stories of 12 men and women who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military in series of speeches given to Congress. (See the most recent video here).
To date, the military has lacked independent adjudication for cases of sexual violence, and as a result, sexual assault has gone underreported. A 2010 Department of Defense (DoD) survey of active duty members revealed that only a small percentage of the more than 19,000 incidents of rapes and sexual assaults involving service members were actually reported. Of the 3,158 assaults that were reported in 2010, only 529 cases were prosecuted.
Additionally, service members have extremely limited access to civilian courts to seek justice. Because cases are addressed through service members’ chain of command, many victims do not report for fear of impact on their careers or a lack of faith that they will be treated fairly and that their perpetrators will be properly prosecuted.
Founded by women veterans in 2007, SWAN has advocated for women and men who have experienced rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military through policy, legislation, public education and community programs.
Speier’s office is also announcing the launch of a website, Protecting Our Defenders, which will serve as a grassroots platform where stories of the injustices experienced by assault victims can be shared with military leaders and Congress. The site’s goal is to keep sexual violence in the military at the forefront of the public’s attention to help bring an end to this epidemic.
Speier’s dedication to this work is clear and laudable. “I want to remind the survivors of sexual assault in the military that the pursuit of justice never ends,” says Rep. Speier on release of the legislation. “Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for helping put an end to this silent epidemic! You will be heard! “